A WILDLIFE charity has launched the most ambitious fundraising appeal in its history to secure the future of a North-East nature reserve.

Durham Wildlife Trust, founded in 1971, has launched an appeal to raise £54,000 so it can protect Rainton Meadows from housing development – and expand the site as a natural asset.

Rainton Meadows – located close to the A690 between Durham and Sunderland – was created in 1996 through the restoration of the Rye Hill opencast coal mine by UK Coal, in partnership with Durham Wildlife Trust and the City of Sunderland.

Set in 74 hectares of wetlands and grasslands, the site has developed into a significant area for wildlife, with more than 200 bird species recorded, including redshank, oystercatcher, curlew (pictured below), great white egret, all five types of UK owl, and the willow tit, which is in decline across the country.

(Image: Gordon McPherson)

Other wildlife on the reserve includes stoat, weasel, brown hare, roe deer, dragonflies and damselflies, while Exmoor ponies and sheep are used to naturally manage the grasslands during the winter.

The site – home to Durham Wildlife Trust’s headquarters – features a visitor centre, WildPlay area, café, and educational facilities, as well as a network of pathways and viewing areas that can be accessed, free of charge, seven days a week.

Now, the trust wants to purchase adjacent fields on the edge of the nature reserve to prevent the encroachment of housing and create more space for people to enjoy nature.

“This is the biggest individual giving appeal the Trust has even done, and it’s a glorious opportunity for nature lovers to play their part in securing and extending a beautiful site for future generations,” said Emily Routledge, Head of Development and Communications, who is managing the appeal.

“Buying this land will enable us to create a buffer between the existing nature reserve and nearby housing, protecting existing species and giving us scope to attract more wildlife to a special part of our region.”

With the owners of the land beside the access road to the site agreeing to sell the plot to the Trust, there is now a race to raise £54,000 by October to seal the deal.

The total needed to buy the land is £540,000, which Durham Wildlife Trust hopes to secure from Biffa Award, part of the Landfill Communities Fund. To release the funding from Biffa Award, the Trust must raise ten per cent as match funding.

If the appeal is successful, Rainton Meadows will be 30 per cent larger, just in time for its 30th anniversary in 2026.

Additional plant species will be introduced to the site, using green hay from the nature reserve, with conservation grazing implemented to create more flower-rich meadows.

Ponds and wetland habitats will be added, and hedgerows planted to prevent disturbance to important species such as curlew and lapwing, with new viewing areas created.

Purchasing the land will also provide a solution to flooding problems that affect access to Rainton Meadows during the winter.