HUNDREDS of youngsters will this week become Rural Rangers after a massive health and safety drive designed for youngsters in the countryside.

Police have joined forces with other agencies to run a series of workshops for 650 primary school pupils at Hamsterley Forest all week.

Nine presentations aim to encourage nine to 11 year-olds from Teesdale and Weardale to play safe and stay healthy by showing them scenarios they could face.

Topics covered include farm safety, highlighting the dangers of farm machinery and inflammable material, water safety, around rivers and reservoirs, fire safety and basic first aid lessons.

There are also presentations about stranger danger, with police dogs Jet and Ben, disability awareness, bullying, and care of wild and domestic animals by the RSPCA.

Community Safety Sergeant Mick Hutchinson co-ordinated the scheme for the third year running.

He said: "Children from rural areas need to be aware of different safety considerations to urban children.

"They can face different situations, such as farm accidents or animals in snares, and may need to be more independent.

"This project gives children extra knowledge, confidence and a strong sense of citizenship."

All the children become Rural Rangers, with a certificate and T-shirt, and are urged to spread the messages they learn throughout their communities.

Chief Insp Andy Reddick, head of community safety with Durham Police Constabulary, added: "This is an important project, as it encourages them to stay safe and healthy and discourages anti-social behaviour.

"It is very positive that so many other groups get involved for a scheme specific to children in the countryside."

Teacher Shirley Franklin, of Toft Hill Primary School, which took part on Monday, said: "Its important that youngsters living in or near the countryside get this advise, because they enjoy this event the knowledge stays with them."