A RETIRED ranger who spent his career protecting the County Durham countryside and launched a project to protect rare butterflies has received a nature lover’s award.

Dave Liddle worked as a Durham County Council countryside ranger for more than 20 years and founded a conservation project aimed at saving the pearl-bordered fritillaries, a butterfly that is facing extinction.

Now he has won the Pendlebury Award run by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership for his years of service.

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Mr Liddle, who retired from the council last year but continues to help with conservation projects, said: “I’m absolutely thrilled to bits.

“I honestly thought I had no chance against all the other nominees, who’ve all done so much for our countryside.

“I thought I was just here to make up the numbers.”

The Pendlebury Award, which was established last year, is named after the partnership’s first chairman, Bob Pendlebury, who worked tirelessly to promote and conserve the special qualities of the area until his death in 2012.

And in a curious coincidence, Mr Liddle used to be Mr Pendlebury’s milkman.

Mr Liddle, who lives in Waskerley, said: “I know how dedicated Bob was so to be classed in the same league as him is very flattering.”

Maria Murphy, countryside development officer with the council, who nominated Mr Liddle for the award, said: “I’ve never known anyone as committed as Dave.

“He lives for his butterflies and his dedication shines through.

“He has a lovely, cheeky way about him which makes people want to work alongside him.”

The award was presented at the North Pennines AONB Partnership’s Annual Forum, which was held at Bowlees Visitor Centre in Upper Teesdale.

It was presented by last year’s inaugural recipient botanist Margaret Bradshaw and the current Chairman of the AONB Partnership Eddie Tomlinson.

Other nominees for the award were Dr Rob Young, historic environment officer with English Heritage, Susie White who is an active volunteer with the AONB Partnership’s WildWatch project and Guardian Country Diary writer, Sonia Kempsey, chair of the Alston Moor Partnership, and Brian Young, geologist and author of Mineralisation of England and Wales.

Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the AONB Partnership, said: “Dave’s enthusiasm is infectious and despite retiring last year, he doesn’t seem to have slowed down at all.

“I can’t think of a more worthy recipient.”