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Pair hailed for their selfless nature work

TWO Teesdale residents have won Natural England’s inaugural volunteer of the year award.

The nature conservation agency gave the prize to celebrate the invaluable contribution that volunteers make to its work.

Both Peter Ditchburn, from Cotherstone, and John Worsnop, from Eggleston, have recently reached their 10th anniversary of volunteering on the two National Nature Reserves (NNRs) in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

Remarkably, they have volunteered almost every week throughout the last decade at the Derwent Gorge and Muggleswick Woods NNR and the Moor House-Upper Teesdale NNR.

 And for the first five years Peter was volunteering two days a week. NaturalEngland said the two men have shown extraordinary commitment getting stuck into practical tasks such as inspections of mineshafts used for lead-mining in the late 1800s – and after qualifying for the ‘Walking Group Leader Award’ very early on, they have led volunteer parties and guided walks through a patchwork of habitats including the dales, upland moors and limestone grasslands.

They have given radio interviews, been on TV and written for newsletters to share with others the positive experiences of volunteering.

Poul Christensen, chairman of Natural England, said: “For me, the accolade written by our staff on the nomination form says it all: ‘We can always rely upon Peter and John. Without them, many of the practical tasks or other NNR work would not happen.

‘They provide a cheerful and enthusiastic addition to the team, and are great advocates for volunteering for Natural England’.”

Natural England has 3,000 volunteers who give their skills, knowledge and expertise and contribute the equivalent of 29,300 working days each year.

Mr Christensen added: “Volunteers are at the very heart of the nature conservation movement.  The contribution they make is irreplaceable: without the time and effort they put in week on week, year on year we wouldn’t have the stunning landscapes or wealth of wildlife we still have in England.

“I wish I could give out 3,000 awards to all our volunteers today.  

“We have established this new ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award because we want to give wider recognition to the amazing efforts our volunteers make for the good of our natural environment – and to say how much we value and appreciate it. Thank you very much, John and Peter.”

On receiving his award, Peter said: “It’s a privilege to win it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a dull day working as a volunteer for Natural England. Martin Furness, the manager for the North Pennines nature reserves, sets the standard for quality and quantity of work: he is the unsung hero.”

John added: “The North Pennines is a tough, but magnificent, environment to work in. There is so much variety. It is really enjoyable.”

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