£5,000 grant clears path to better winter access at Oakenshaw Wildlife Reserve

October 12, 2016 | Community News

Nature lovers can now get better access to a popular County Durham wildlife reserve all year round thanks to a four-figure grant from a regional employer.

Oakenshaw Community Association has been awarded a £5,000 grant from The Banks Group via its Banks Community Fund to create a second disabled access from the village to the Oakenshaw Community Wildlife Reserve to the south west of Durham City.

The project was conceived after visitors highlighted difficulties for people using mobility scooters or with other mobility issues in getting to the ponds at the centre of the reserve due to poor ground conditions during the winter months

A new surfaced path has now been laid to complement the existing routes around the reserve, with six benches being put in place along to provide resting places for visitors.

And feedback received so far from users about the opportunities opened up by the new path has been extremely positive.

The 39-hectare Oakenshaw Community Wildlife Reserve, which was opened by Tony Blair 20 years ago, is a mainly broad-leaved woodland with a seven hectare nature reserve, and provides open space for the local community with an extensive network of footpaths extending into the surrounding woodland.

It is a haven for wildlife, contains three large ponds that are surrounded by a wild flower meadow, and the adjacent woodland has open glades with grassy margins designed to benefit many species, in particular woodland butterflies.

The reserve has previously won both a Durham County Council Environment award and the Millennium Marque for Environmental Excellence, while a recent survey by a local resident identified over 100 varieties of fungi across it.

John Spencer, chair of Oakenshaw Community Association, says: “The wildlife reserve is a highly valued community asset which attracts a lot of visitors from both within and outside the local community, and we work hard to make the very best of everything it offers.

“When the winter weather comes, conditions underfoot can naturally get a bit tricky, but that doesn’t mean that people don’t want to get out and about around the reserve, and having had comments from visitors with mobility problems about the issues they were facing, we decided we wanted to do something about them.

“It’s very doubtful that we would have been able to get this second path laid without the Banks Group’s contribution to the cause, and the difference it has made is clear for all to see.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments on the areas of the reserve that are now being made more accessible to all our visitors, and we hope to keep welcoming as many people as possible right through the year.”

Lewis Stokes, community relations manager at the Banks Group, adds: “The creation of the Oakenshaw Wildlife Reserve is a great example of the opportunities presented by the restoration of former surface mines, and it’s wonderful to see how well-used it has become.

“Ensuring access for everyone to community assets such as this is an essential part of their operation, and we’re very pleased to be supporting Oakenshaw Community Association’s excellent work towards doing so.”

The Banks Community Fund provides grants for community groups and voluntary organisations in the vicinity of Banks Group projects.  Anyone interested in applying for funding should contact James Eaglesham at the Banks Community Fund on 0191 378 6342.

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