A SOUTH Durham tree planting initiative was crowned Green Champion at the national Green Apple Awards.

Tree Appeal, from Fountains Associates, in High Etherley, near Bishop Auckland, helps organisations plant native British broad-leaved trees such as oak, beech and ash.

Supported by wildlife trusts and the Department for Food and Rural Affairs, it offsets carbon dioxide emissions and encourages wildlife habitats.

Naturalist Bill Oddie accepted the award for the company at a ceremony in the House of Commons.

Bob Swinbank, from Tree Appeal, said: "It gives companies the opportunity to make a real difference. These broad-leaved trees make a significant contribution to the environment and help to combat change at the same time."

The awards also honoured a £9.5m Environment Agency flood defence scheme which was fast-tracked after severe flooding five years ago, for taking care of the environment.

The River Gaunless Flood Alleviaton scheme protects about 660 homes and businesses in West Auckland and South Church.

A 15m-high damn at Spring Gardens was largely built using material already on the site, 32,000 trees and shrubs were planted and an 11- hectare site is being transformed into a wildlife wetland habitat.

A nature and exercise trail stretches 2.4km along an abandoned railway line where there are benches, viewing points and grassy seating areas.