A GROUP is fighting to preserve closed eco-centre Nature's World in Middlesbrough.

Volunteers from the Hands on Middlesbrough group and Friends of Nature's World have been going in every week to tend the gardens at the former tourist attraction in a bid to maintain the secret gardens and deserted orchards there.

The 26-acre Nature's World closed in 2012 due to funding cuts and a fall in visitor numbers.

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Last week 150 people went in to pick apples in its orchards so the fruit was not left to rot.

The organically-grown apples were collected for charity for the Mary Thompson Trust and Teesside Hospice, and volunteers also made juice.

Last year a similar event collected apples to distribute to homeless people in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland.

Middlesbrough Council has allowed volunteers to go in once a week for the past year, alongside two experienced volunteers, since the attraction closed down.

Hands on Middlesbrough aims to restore some of the gardens and water features and wants to preserve it as a community green space with its formal garden features and open woodland.

Nature's World, which originally operated as a registered charity from 1992, and was officially opened by botanist David Bellamy, was once described as "The North of England's pioneering eco-experience" with an average 29,000 visitors each year.

Scarlet Pink, of Hands on Middlesbrough, said: "The former Nature's World site is a unique and special place. Ironically it is more of a habitat for wildlife than it ever was.

"It is also a great resource for food when people are going hungry and places like this are becoming at risk.

"As a group we think communities need to get together and actively get "hands on" to protect, support and promote valuable community assets and demonstrate the places that they want to remain, to benefit future generations. We need to hold on to places like this."

She said the site was a forager's heaven, with organic gooseberries and strawberries growing there, as well as wildflowers including rare orchids.

*Hands on Middlesbrough is appealing for volunteers to help out. They meet at 10am-4pm each Thursday. Contact handsonmiddlesbroughfuture@gmail.com or www.handsonmiddlesbrough.org