Chester-le-Street'S first community environment group has been launched to conserve the area's wildlife.

Chester-le-Street Action for a Sustainable Environment will carry out projects at the town's Riverside Park and other areas in the district.

Schemes that have already got under way include installing bird boxes to encourage the breeding of brown owls, sparrows and spotted flycatchers.

The group also has plans to carry out a survey of brown hares, coppice willows and plant riverbanks to improve habitats at Riverside Park, and a programme to teach people about otters.

This could include the building of a log pile holt to encourage the creatures to return to the area.

Malcolm Pratt, the leader of Chester-le-Street District Council, said: "We often take it for granted that the district is home to a diverse range of plant and animal life.

"All of us are responsible for looking after our natural heritage and I cannot think of a better way to improve the quality of life in relation to our environment.''

To get involved with the group, call 0191-387 2131