A MAJOR river restoration project costing up to £350,000 has been unveiled - with an appeal for volunteers.

Wear Rivers Trust today (November 16) teamed up with Groundwork North East and Cumbria, the Environment Agency and Durham county councillors to outline the initiative to return the neglected stretch of the River Gaunless in South Church, Bishop Auckland, to its former glory.

The community-led project, estimated to cost between £300,000 and £350,000, aims to re-connect communities, landowners and businesses with the river.

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The two year scheme is due to get underway in 2017.

It also promises conservation and community benefits by encouraging residents in the area to identify problems, plan improvements and carry out conservation work.

The river flows from Hummer Beck to the River Wear. Historic mining has caused contamination while the building of new roads, flood prevention measures and new homes have all resulted in the course of the Gaunless being redirected, making it very fast-flowing. Litter is also a problem.

Wear Rivers Trust has lodged a bid with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to pay for most of the work, with county councillors already pledging £7,000 from neighbourhood budgets to kick start the project.

Their contribution will be match-funded by Bishop Auckland and Shildon Area Action Partnership.

Diane Maughan, office manager for Wear Rivers Trust, said: “We will look at re-directing the river, restoration of the woodland and improving the grassed area and paths. We would also like to build a recreation area.

“Today is about recruiting volunteers. We want people to do the survey on our website to give their views, to take part in the local management group and to come to the AAP meeting.

Trish Pemberton, Durham county councillor for Shildon and Dean Valley said: “Nowadays we are so aware of the importance of mental health and having open spaces and it is an important project in that respect. This river is also a key part of our natural and industrial heritage.

“Very close by is Saint Andrew’s School. It is important that these and other schoolchildren get part of their outdoor education at this river. It will give them opportunities to experience their natural environment and learn to live and value it as a key part of their education.”

Councillor John Lethbridge, Woodhouse Close, added: “The flood of 2000 is still in people’s minds and part of this project will be to avoid this kind of flooding in the future.”

To get involved in the scheme, visit surveymonkey.com/r/RiverGaunless or contact Diane Maughan on 01388 488867 to be part of the project management group.