Weetslade Country Park, which lies partially on the former pit heap of Weetslade Colliery, fended off competition from 70 other Land Trust sites around the UK to secure the Site of the Year Award.
The Award recognizes all the improvements to the Park, which lies on the outskirts of Newcastle, carried out over the last year by the wildlife charity and Weetslade volunteer group
Led by Northumberland Wildlife Trust Estate’s Officer Peter Ernst, the team created a new area for ground nesting birds, re-wetted the ‘old saltmarsh’ on site to encourage wildlife to flourish, installed a cycle rack and new paths, painted fences, refreshed the picnic areas and site furniture and improved the signage.
All the improvements have helped create a better visitor experience as more people than ever are turning to green spaces for their health and wellbeing.
The Project of the Year Award was presented to Peter again, this time for his work with a team of volunteers at Northumberlandia who braved the freezing weather last January to improve access to the head of the 100ft high sculpture.
The landform sculpture in Cramlington, nicknamed The Lady of the North was opened to the public in October 2012 and attracts over 90,000 visitors each year. Over time, the path leading to the head had become unsafe, while some parts of the path on the way up had either crumbled or completely washed away, exposing the foundations.
Towards the end of 2019, the decision was taken to create a set of new steps over the eroded paths.
In total, 18 volunteers clocked up 533 hours laying 70 steps covering 80 metres over 33 days. They used over 150 bags of concrete, 34 four tonnes of natural whinstone dust as back fill, filled 2,400 buckets, had almost 40 trailer loads of buckets and made 1200 trips up the landform to drop the material into the steps.
The task was tough going at times with the team having to follow strict covid social distancing rules, which included not sharing tools, working two metres apart and making their own way to the site rather than in the wildlife charity’s minibus. Unbelievably, despite this, the project was completed on time and within budget.
Speaking about the award for the two sites and his volunteers, Peter Ernst said: “I am absolutely delighted with these two awards. However, they are not for the Trust, or me, they are for the awesome volunteers because without them, we’d still be doing the work now.
“It was really tough going at times on both sites - especially at Northumberlandia, with all the covid restrictions, but we got there in the end, and it’s really rewarding when regular visitors tell us it’s one of the best things we’ve done on the site.”