VISITOR numbers at North-East heritage sites are at the highest level in seven years, with 75 per cent of adults visiting one of the region’s attractions in the past year.

Research by Heritage Counts also revealed the number of National Trust volunteers in the region is twice the national average at 14 per cent.

The changes come in spite of challenging economic times, which has affected private individuals and groups that care for heritage.

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Now in its 10th year, Heritage Counts is an annual survey about the state of England’s historic environment. It is produced by English Heritage on behalf of the Historic Economic Forum.

Jan Bibby, chair of the North East Historic Environment Forum and director of the National Trust’s North East and Yorkshire region, said: “A time of change is a time for new solutions, and Heritage Counts looks to the future with research on the theme of resilience.

“When Heritage Counts was first published in 2002 the economy had been growing for over 10 years and only half the population was online.

“The world in 2012 is very different. As such, the 10th edition of Heritage Counts provides an opportunity to take stock of how heritage has fared in these changing times and where it might be going in future.”

Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham’s transfer to charitable status is among the projects highlighted in the survey. Combined with the introduction of new attractions, vistor numbers at the museum have shot up by 65 per cent.

The establishment of the Auckland Castle Trust to raise £10m for the restoration of Bishop Auckland’s famous landmark is also praised.