A NATURE reserve has been forced to put up emergency feeders to ensure birds do not starve during the winter after thieves raided the site.

Ten bird feeders worth more than £150 were stolen from Low Barns Nature Reserve near Witton-le-Wear in County Durham overnight on Monday (December 3).

The feeders, which were paid for and filled by volunteers, were taken from two locations at Durham Wildlife Trust's riverside reserve.

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The majority contained peanuts, mixed nuts and fatballs at a feeding station behind the visitor centre while two were also stolen from one of the site’s four bird hides.

Around 45 species are known to use the feeding stations including members of the tit family, nuthatch, goldfinch and greater-spotted woodpecker with the rarest including goldcrest and green woodpecker.

Reserve assistant Graeme Middleton said the feeders are vital to support the local birds, especially during winter.

He said: “The feeder is important throughout the year but of course during winter food is much harder for birds to find elsewhere so they rely on it even more.

“Once they start feeding from our feeders they rely on them as their main source of food and the thought that someone could steal the feeder is very upsetting.”

Mr Middleton said the feeders are sustained with donations from the public and cost £1,500 a year to fill.

They are monitored and maintained by some of the trust’s volunteers who have taken the thefts very personally.

Mr Middleton said: “It does feel like someone has come to their home and stolen, and the fear is that once the feeders are back up they will get taken again.

“It seems such a weird crime because the thieves will probably only get up to £5 for each one.”

The thieves will have had to climb over the reserve’s barrier and are believed to have put the feeders in a bag before leaving the site.

Jim Cokill, Trust Director, said: “The bird feeding station is one of our most popular attractions at Low Barns.

“Stealing the feeders is a senseless crime.”