Northern Heartlands Community Initiative Fund

Taking Action to Conserve Wildlife

Funding from the Northern Heartlands Community Initiative Fund has helped enable, particularly through supporting travel costs, often a barrier to participation, over 100 children from four primary schools in the Bishop Auckland and Gaunless Valley areas to gets ‘hands on’ in their local river, finding out more about it and taking action to conserve its wildlife. 


Pupils from Prince Bishops, St Andrew’s, Cockton Hill and Cockfield Primary schools have all been spending a week working with the Wear Rivers Trust and Daisy Arts to discover, explore, conserve and celebrate the River Gaunless, as part of work towards their John Muir Award (https://www.johnmuirtrust.org). 


Children have explored the River Gaunless from its source in the North Pennines to its confluence with the River Wear below Auckland Castle, finding out more about its natural, industrial and cultural history and the variety of wildlife it supports along the way. Inspired to help conserve the river pupils have carried out anti-litter campaigns and conducted wildflower, invertebrate and fish surveys as well as creating artwork depicting the wildlife they have discovered. With help from the fire and police services children also found out how to stay safe in and around rivers. 


Rivers play an important role in Gypsy Romany Traveller culture and some of the pupils spent time visiting a GRT site and finding out more about this. The John Muir Award is being extended to GRT young people over the summer holidays, representatives of whom are now active participants in the Gaunless Local Management Group. The successful secondary school “soundscapes” activity (capturing underwater sounds made by invertebrates) will be extended to  primary and included in the River Gaunless Symphony project, and further schools will be supported to achieve the John Muir award in the Autumn/Winter terms   

Nova Talbot, Positive Futures Worker at Cockton Hill Junior School commented that the project had given children an amazing opportunity to understand their environment and make a difference, whilst pupils rated the experience 5 out of 5 saying that they enjoyed the adventurous aspect of the activities and loved going into the river to find out more about it. 


The activities were part of the ‘River Gaunless for People and Wildlife’ project funded by the Heritage Lottery Foundation, Northern Heartland Community Initiative Fund and BASH Area Action Partnership and delivered by the Wear Rivers Trust, Groundwork and Daisy Arts.