ENVIRONMENTALISTS at a North-East charity are hoping to be involved in a major project to protect marine wildlife on the North-East coastline this year.

Durham Wildlife Trust said development work has been completed and the final project bid has been submitted for a funding decision.

If granted, Summer 2020 will see the start of the £3million Seascapes project.

It will focus on the often-overlooked ‘Magnesian Limestone’ coast between the Rivers Tyne and Tees, including its coastal cliffs, beaches and inshore waters.

Mark Dinning, the trust’s head of conservation, said: “When considering this coastline some people may still think back to its industrial past, but the Durham coast and its seascape are underpinned by unique geology, an outstanding natural environment and a strong cultural heritage.

“Once smothered in colliery spoil, this coastline has seen major regeneration over the past few decades.

“This has brought its seascape back into life.

“Recent surveys have documented lobsters, soft corals and an abundance of fish.”

There are more than 20 miles of coastline from the Tyne to the Tees and those waters play host to a vast array of wildlife.

The coastline has an unusual geology, unique in the UK, with Permian Magnesian Limestone exposed under the sea.

It also acts as a nursery ground for juvenile cod and supports a wide range of sponges, soft corals, hydroids, bryozoans and dahlia anemones.

Durham Wildlife Trust is a partner organisation in the National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported SeaScapes project, led by Durham Heritage Coast, which, amongst other initiatives, hopes to highlight the marine wildlife of this coastline.

The project is not the only one to target rare marine wildlife in the area and one success story in 2019 involved Durham Wildlife Trust and concerns the little tern.

Arriving from West Africa in late April, the little tern is the UK’s second rarest seabird. Durham Wildlife Trust wardens watched the birds arrive but then disappear from the beach at Crimdon where they have nested for many years.

Thankfully, the colony had only moved a short way down the coast to Seaton Carew and after two years of low fledgling success at Crimdon, round-the-clock care by trust staff and local volunteers saw more than 40 young birds fledge in 2019.

Almost 298,000 people have backed a seven-year campaign by The Wildlife Trusts to protect UK waters and 41 new Marine Conservation Zones were announced in 2019, bringing the total to 91.

They will mean greater marine protection for underwater places including cold water corals, forests of sea fans, rocky canyons and sandbanks.

Joan Edwards, The Wildlife Trusts’ national director of Living Seas, said: “2019 saw a sea-change in people’s attitudes.

“The extent of the nature and climate emergency is becoming increasingly clear and more people than ever are volunteering to be citizen scientists and conducting important surveys or taking action to tackle the profound problems of marine litter and plastic pollution.

“Healthy seas are essential for wildlife and are also a key part of tackling climate change.

“Oceans are the largest sink for man-made carbon dioxide.”