AN AREA the size of 133 football pitches has been given a new lease of life thanks to a green recovery initiative launched by a North-East wildlife charity.

The Healing Nature project, launched in January 2021 by Durham Wildlife Trust, achieved a string of successes across 20 North-East sites in the space of just over a year, including:

  • restoring more than 200 acres of habitat – roughly equivalent to 133 standard-size football pitches
  • engaging around 1,650 North-East residents in guided walks, education sessions, and community events – both online and in-person – 88% of whom said they were inspired to spend more time in nature
  • planting 14,000 flower bulbs to diversify woodland
  • creating three acres of new North-East woodland
  • restoring 1km of established British hedgerow and planting another 4,225 hedgerow shrubs
  • removing seven tonnes of discarded litter from the environment

Phill Catton, Healing Nature project manager, said: “Healing Nature was only a short project, lasting just 15 months, but it has really shown what can be achieved in a compressed period of time – even with the restrictions and limitations of COVID to deal with.”

The project, focused on 20 sites across Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside, was funded by the Government’s Green Recovery Challenge Fund, along with contributions from Gateshead, South Tyneside, and Sunderland councils.

The fund was developed by Defra and its ‘arm’s-length bodies’, and delivered by The National Lottery Heritage Fund in partnership with Natural England, the Environment Agency and Forestry Commission.

“We have greatly enjoyed showing people why these spaces are valuable and raising awareness of some of the less obvious wildlife living alongside us,” Phill said. “The interest and appreciation have been very gratifying – whether it’s been simply clearing litter and fly tipping, or planting new hedgerows and trees. The feedback has been great.

“It has also been rewarding to get so many people involved – both through volunteering and through our trainee programme – in managing their local sites, and to have helped them develop new skills, from hedge-laying and scything to first aid and ecology.

“Durham Wildlife Trust will now remain involved at many of the sites, and continue to work closely with our partners at the local councils.  We are very grateful to them and to DEFRA for all their help, as well as to all our supporters, and to everyone who helped make Healing Nature such a success.”

  • Though the Healing Nature project has ended, Durham Wildlife Trust still offers plenty of opportunities to get involved. Visit www.durhamwt.com/get-involved for more information.