RESIDENTS who have been trying to spruce up their area have been left devastated after thieves stole their village mascot.

Community-spirited volunteers formed Esh Village Residents’ Association a few years ago, in the hope of improving the look of the village, which lies west of Durham City.

Amid council funding cutbacks, the group stepped in to raise money for planters and flower displays.

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However, a few weeks ago, thieves stole a half-barrel planted with seasonal flowers.

Then, overnight between Monday, June 9, and Tuesday, June 10, crooks made off with a carved owl sculpture, which had become iconic in the village.

Mary Guymer, chair of the residents’ association, said: “He stood tall and proud opposite the village primary school and was loved by residents and children alike.

“He had been there for several years and had become the focal point in the village.

“The children were devastated on arriving at school on Tuesday morning to find he had been taken in the night.

“The police have been involved but there must be people who know where he is and could help to have him restored to his rightful position.”

The wooden sculpture was created and donated by Lanchester-based craftsman Lee Hoskins.

Dubbed the wise old owl, he wore a pair of glasses which had belonged to the late father of a villager, who is particularly upset at the theft.

The sculpture, which stood at the bottom of Hall Road, was dug up from its concrete base.

Shocked residents have been knocking on neighbours’ doors in the hope of tracing the sculpture and residents responded by making donations to the cause, raising a total of £305.

Mrs Guymer, who has lived in Esh for 50 years, said: “It’s always been such a nice, quiet village.

“But we had no idea how popular the owl was until this collection started.”

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Anyone with information on either of the thefts can call Durham Police on the non-emergency number, 101.

Esh will host a village picnic on the village green on Saturday (June 28) at 3.30pm. All are welcome.