A LEADING North-East wildlife charity is to create several jobs after being awarded more than £400,000 of Government funding to deliver a “landmark” conservation programme.

Durham Wildlife Trust’s “Healing Nature” initiative – protecting and restoring important habitats across 20 wildlife sites – is one of the first environmental projects to be awarded a grant from the Government’s £80m Green Recovery Challenge Fund.

The Trust has been awarded £407,300 to carry out vital work at the sites in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside.

Healing Nature is one of the first wave of 68 projects to benefit from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, established by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and administered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, in partnership with Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Local authorities in Gateshead, Sunderland and South Tyneside are contributing £69,500 between them for capital works.

Mark Dinning, the Trust’s Head of Conservation, said: “Durham Wildlife Trust is delighted to be awarded this landmark funding.

“The challenges posed to the health of our natural world have never been better recognised, and Healing Nature will put nature’s recovery at the heart of these local communities.

“We would like to thank our local authority partners and Defra for recognising and investing in this significant opportunity to restore nature.”

The Government funding will lead to the Trust forming a Healing Nature project team, tasked with protecting and ecologically restoring important habitats, including grasslands, wetlands, and woodlands.

The team will include three new full-time posts, three part-time posts and four trainees, recruited through the Kickstart programme. They will work alongside volunteers to save the sites and create more resilient conditions for a rich variety of wildlife.

Species that are in decline at the North-East sites include the water vole, skylark and dingy skipper butterfly.

The work will include woodland management, pond restoration, grassland management, scrub clearance, and planting hedges.

Healing Nature will also have a significant impact on communities, making sure residents are better connected to their local wildlife sites. This will include new paths, gates, and signage to make the sites more welcoming and easier to use.

The Trust will also arrange activities and events – both face to face and online – to encourage community groups, families, young people and local residents to get involved, as well as delivering educational sessions at schools.

“A key aim will be to change perceptions, inspire action and raise awareness about wildlife, which will be fundamental to long-term sustainability and management of these sites,” added Mark.

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “These projects will drive forward work across England to restore and transform our landscapes, boost nature, and create green jobs, and will be a vital part of helping us build back greener from coronavirus.”