AN area that has been hit by floods is to be transformed into a haven for wildlife.

An 11-hectare site between West Auckland and Ramshaw has the potential to become a home for otters, skylarks and toads, says the Environment Agency.

The site is close to the Gaunless dam, which has been built to protect communities that were devastated by flooding in 2000.

The Environment Agency, which is spearheading the project, is hoping that the scheme will recover some of the area's natural heritage. It is urging members of the community to come on board with ideas for how to make it work.

Environment Agency biodiversity team leader, Jim Heslop, said: "We really want to hear from residents about their hopes for the site and to show them how they can be involved.

"We are looking for people at every stage of the project.

"We not only need help with the planting, but with the design work and carrying out wildlife surveys.''

It is hoped that the land will be transformed into a mosaic of valuable wetland habitats, including reed beds, wet woodlands and water meadows.

There are also plans to create a nature trail and information signs as well as planting wild flowers.

The scheme is one of 14 initiatives being carried out as part of the Mineral Valleys Project (MVP), which aims to regenerate West County Durham's social, natural and industrial heritage.

The MVP is a £5.2m English Nature-led programme, which has been funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £2.8m and 50 further organisations in the Mineral Valleys Partnership.

An informal drop-in session has been organised by the environment agency on Wednesday, April 13, for people to find out more about the Gaunless Valley project and how they can become involved.

Anyone interested can go along to the Manor House Hotel, The Green, West Auckland, between 6pm and 8pm.

Mr Heslop said: "It is going to be a big job but with everyone's help we can make this valuable wildlife haven a part of the whole community.''