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Durham Wildlife Trust
DWT Visitor Centre, Rainton Meadows.jpg
Rainton Meadows Visitor Centre, HQ of Durham Wildlife Trust
Formation 1971
Type Registered charity
Headquarters Rainton Meadows, Houghton-le-Spring, Tyne and Wear, England
Professor David Bellamy

Durham Wildlife Trust, founded in 1971, is a registered charity which aims to protect wildlife and promote nature conservation in parts of County Durham and Tyne and Wear, England. It is one of 46 such organisations that together constitute The Wildlife Trusts Partnership.

The Trust owns or manages 37 nature reserves, covering more than 782 ha, operates two visitor centres, and is actively involved in raising conservation awareness through educational activities.

Status and scope

Durham Wildlife Trust is a registered charity, which depends to a large extent on the support of its members, many of whom participate as volunteers in various conservation activities. The Trust's Patron is the Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and its President is Professor David Bellamy.

The Trust's activities cover the present unitary authorities of Durham and Darlington in County Durham and the metropolitan boroughs of Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland in Tyne and Wear.


Durham Biodiversity Partnership

The Durham Biodiversity Partnership, which covers the same geographic area as Durham Wildlife Trust, was established in 1996 to oversee the development, implementation and monitoring of the Durham Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), which is the medium through which the United Kingdom Biodiversity Action Plan is translated into action within the county of Durham. Members of the Partnership include a wide range of organisations and individuals who have an interest in the BAP.

Durham Wildlife Trust plays an important role in the Partnership. It provides a home for the Partnership at Rainton Meadows, and is represented on the Partnership's steering group, alongside representatives from Natural England, the Environment Agency, the Forestry Commission, Northumbrian Water, the Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, the North East Biodiversity Forum, and the County, City and Borough Councils within the area. The Trust also operates, on behalf of the Partnership, the Durham Biodiversity Data Service, which provides high-quality species and habitat data.

Durham Wildlife Services Ltd

Durham Wildlife Services is the Trust's commercial arm, providing an ecological consultancy service to businesses and local authorities. Although its customer base is primarily within Durham, it operates across the whole of the United Kingdom. A particular speciality is the preparation of "environmental stewardship" plans, under which farmers are able to obtain funding for properly managed conservation schemes on their land.

Profits generated by DWS are covenanted to Durham Wildlife Trust.


Education is an important aspect of the Trust's work. The main education centre is at Rainton Meadows, near Houghton-le-Spring; as well as being conveniently close to the most populous parts of the county, in Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside, this centre has an indoor classroom and conference centre. At Low Barns, near Bishop Auckland, there is a second education centre, which caters primarily to outdoor activities. The Trust also arranges educational activities at Hylton Dene and Hylton Castle, mainly for the benefit of local schools in the Sunderland area.

In addition to educational facilities at its own sites, the Trust also has an educational outreach programme, under which Trust staff make visits schools or community groups.


Durham Wildlife Trust is an active partner in a number of conservation projects in County Durham:

  • Living Landscapes are schemes to restore biodiversity across the landscape by providing 'corridors' for wildlife to move between reserves and other protected areas. Durham Wildlife Trust is involved in two such schemes:
    • "Heart of Durham", funded by Northumbria Water, aims to preserve and extend areas of heathland and lowland valleys in a broad area extending from Derwent Reservoir in the north to Hamsterley Forest in the south.
    • "Limestone Landscapes", coordinated by Durham County Council, aims to restore and enhance the unique landscape of the magnesian limestone plateau of lowland Durham.
  • Living Waterways is a project, in partnership with the Environment Agency, to develop sustainable methods of reducing flood risk in urban areas, while improving wildlife habitats and increasing recreational use of urban waterways.
  • Veteran Trees is a Durham Biodiversity Partnership project which aims to increase public awareness of the conservation and amenity value of old trees.

The Trust is currently involved in projects to protect species such as the great crested newt, the water vole and the barn owl, and played an important part in helping to re-establish otters across the county's river catchments.

Nature reserves

Rainton Meadows and East Rainton
Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve, looking towards the village of East Rainton

Nature Reserves managed by the Trust include Bishop Middleham Quarry, Hawthorn Dene and Low Barns, and include a range of important habitats, such as Magnesian Limestone grasslands, upland hay meadows and coastal denes. The magnesian limestone grasslands managed by the Trust represent some of the finest examples of this particular habitat type, of which only 200 ha remain in the UK.

The Trust's largest reserve is Hedleyhope Fell, near Tow Law at over 200 ha. It is one of the finest examples of recovering mid-altitude heathland in the county – a rare habitat in County Durham. The site is very important because it supports a range of rare and uncommon flora and fauna, including lesser skullcap, stag's-horn clubmoss and the velvet ant, which has not been recorded anywhere else in the County. It is also home to a large number of breeding birds and is an important site for the green hairstreak butterfly.


The Trust currently manages the following reserves:

Reserve Area (ha) Grid reference Owner
Addison and Hedgefield 14.0 DWT
Baal Hill Wood 15.5 DWT
Barlow Burn 20.0 DWT
Bishop Middleham Quarry 10.0 Leased from Church Commissioners
Black Plantation 13.8 DWT
Blackhall Rocks 32.4 Leased from Durham County Council
Burnhope Pond 14.1 Leased from Durham County Council
Chopwell Meadows 17.0 DWT (part of site was former Chopwell Colliery)
Edmondsley Wood 12.5 DWT
Hannah's Meadows 8.8 DWT
Hawthorn Dene 67.0 DWT / National Trust
Hedleyhope Fell 202.0 DWT
Hesleden Dene 8.5 DWT
High Wood NR 2.5 DWT
Joe's Pond 4.5 DWT
Longburnford Quarry 1.0 DWT
Low Barns 50 DWT
Malton NR 4.5 Leased from Durham County Council
Milkwellburn Wood 79.0 DWT
Rabbitbank Wood 7.0 DWT
Ragpath Heath 3.5 DWT
Rainton Meadows 60.0 UK Coal Ltd / City of Sunderland
Raisby Hill Grassland 11.5 DWT /Tarmac
Redcar Field 0.4 DWT / Natural England
Shibdon Pond 13.7 Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead Council
Stanley Moss NR 7.5 DWT
Town Kelloe Bank 5.0 DWT
Trimdon Grange Quarry 5.0 Leased from Durham County Council
Tudhoe Mill Wood 37.5 DWT / Whitwirth Estates
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