EFFORTS to preserve and protect the site of an historic County Durham railway bridge targeted by vandals has included a day of action to clean it up.

The Gaunless Bridge, part of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, was built in 1824 and is believed to be the first iron railway bridge in the world. It is now kept at the National Railway Museum in York but the original abutments remain where it once stood, in West Auckland.

In recent years the site has been subject to vandalism and anti-social behaviour so, in response, the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone– which aims to rejuvenate and restore the historic railway for its bicentenary in 2025– are working with the community to improve the area.

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Durham County Council and the Environment Agency helped by spending a day sprucing up the area– removing litter and graffiti, trimming back undergrowth and clearing up the section of the River Wear near the site.

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Councillor John Clare, who represents the council on the Stockton and Darlington Heritage Action Zone, said: “The Gaunless Bridge abutments are a part of the Stockton and Darlington Scheduled Monument so are of national significance. It is, therefore, incredibly important that we do all we can to preserve and protect them and the surrounding area.

“Our ambition is to make the site a place that the whole community can access and enjoy, including as a stop off on the Stockton and Darlington Railway walking and cycling route. This clean-up is a significant step towards developing the area for that purpose.”

Andrew Foster, specialist field operations team member for Durham and Tees at the Environment Agency, said: “The work delivered by the field operations team aims to reduce flood risk to residents, communities and properties, which perfectly fits in with the clean-up operation on the River Gaunless. We were able to implement our specialist skills to work with our partners to help rejuvenate and enhance these areas of historic significance.

“Another key element of the operation is environmental leave, as some of the people taking part in the project are volunteers, who are using their enthusiasm to do their bit for the environment and the local community. They are working alongside our Durham and Tees field operations team, who are specialised in tackling tricky locations like rivers and waterways, and were able to retrieve some bulky items like a storm tree and even a supermarket trolley.”

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Sarah Price, head of Locomotion at Shildon, said: "We're really excited and very supportive of any project to preserve the early history of railway and are involved in the HAZ, we appreciate all efforts to pull the story of the railway together."

For project details email Richard Starrs at planning.policy@darlington.gov.uk