A NATURE reserve which offers valuable habitat to wildlife is being put at risk by vandals who have targeted the site in a spate of arson attacks and criminal damage.

Over the last 12 months police have logged a series of instances of anti-social behaviour at Ferryhill Carrs nature reserve, on the edge of Ferryhill.

Trees and gorse have been set alight and tyres have been taken into woodland and burned.

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The most recent incident, reported to police on Monday, saw a stile pulled out of the ground and a length of fencing cracked and splintered. Previously, a set of wooden steps was smashed.

There are fears that if the vandalism continues the Carrs- a Site of Special Scientific Interest where a rare mix of fen, meadow and woodland provides important habitat particularly for birds- could be seriously damaged.

PC Tony Burgess said: “The rangers are genuinely concerned that unless these incidents are halted there is a severe risk of a major fire once the woods eventually dry out.

“There is also the obvious threat posed to wildlife in the reserve.

“We are visiting local properties to ask them for their help in reporting anything suspicious and paying particular attention to the area while out on patrol.”

Countryside ranger John Olley, of Durham County Council, said that along with the impact of vandalism and arson on nature it also puts the public at risk.

He said: “Ash woodland is very dry, even in the winter, so a fire could easily spread and the whole place could go up. In a SSSI the damage could be very serious.

“It is well used, so this is a safety concern for visitors, and the council has to repair the damage, so there is a cost and it puts pressure on staff and volunteers’ time.”

Last year, countryside enthusiasts formed a deer watch group to help police tackle an increase in deer poaching in the area following a series of incidents, including the slaughter of two pregnant deer.

Witnesses or anyone with information on those responsible is asked to contact police on 101.