HEDGEHOG CHAMPION: Sophie Hebdon proudly displays her trophy and certificate              			TM pic
HEDGEHOG CHAMPION: Sophie Hebdon proudly displays her trophy and certificate TM pic

Teesdale people are doing fantastic things in their communities on a daily basis. Reporter Martin Paul spoke to some of them whose efforts were recognised during the County Durham Environment Awards

HEDGEHOG rescuing, litter picking, volunteer gardening and outdoor wellbeing sessions are among the dale projects that were recognised at this year’s County Durham Environment Awards.

Teesdale had a cracking night at the awards ceremony at Hardwick Hall on Thursday, March 7, when four local projects received accolades.

Particularly impressive was the contribution of young people.

Sophie Hebdon, from Cockfield, walked off with the trophy for Under 18 Volunteer of Year for her work in rescuing hedgehogs in distress, and returning them to the wild once rehabilitated.

The 11-year-old got involved by chance when she found an injured hedgehog while looking after Cockfield Primary School’s allotment in the summer of 2022 when the caretaker was on holiday.

The animal, which she named Twig, had fly-strike which happens when flies lay eggs into an open wound.

Along with her mum Katy, she took the animal to A Prickly Problem, a hedgehog rescue based in Butterknowle.

Sadly, Twig did not survive, however, the rescue centre operator told her “if there has been one there will be more”.

Her mum said: “So we used to go up every night with head torches on walking around the school field.”

Sophie added: “We found two, and one had a broken leg.”

The youngster now has a scheme where she takes hedgehogs from the rescue centre in Butterknowle, as well as another in Newton Aycliffe, and cares from them in hutches in her garden over the winter.

She has also converted Cockfield Primary School’s former chicken run into a “hedgehog release”.

Sophie said: “We put them in the hedgehog release so they get used to the outdoors and then we let them out [into the school field].”

She is currently caring for two hedgehogs, Dusty and Hermoine, which she hopes to place in the release before Easter. In the past two years she has saved more than 20 hedgehogs.

Incredibly, Sophie’s friend Jack Hopper, who looks after her hedgehogs when she is away, earned a highly commended accolade in the same category, for his litter-picking scheme.

The 12-year-old Staindrop Academy pupil initially got involved at the age of eight when he organised a one-off litter-pick in Cockfield in conjunction with the YMCA’s Community Café.

Following that he would litter-pick on his way to and from school, but noticed that the rubbish kept coming back.

At age ten, he started Cockfield Climate Cleaners and began organising monthly community clean-ups.

His mum Stacey said: “When we first started there were really big items like half couches in the bushes and big bits of foam that had obviously been there for years and years.”

To aid the project and to encourage pride in the village, the youngster in collaboration with Durham County Council has had signs and stickers put up in the village appealing for people to keep the area clean.

He has also come up with innovative ideas to keep people interested.

Jack said: “To make it a bit more fun we did the weirdest piece of litter award. There were some very weird pieces of litter, someone found a wheel rim off a car and quite a few people found socks.”

His volunteer work has also earned him a Durham Youth Council award.

A Barnard Castle project that improves adult’s mental health by bringing them into nature also featured on the night.

Gemma McColl and Louise Shepherd, of Bright Woods Forest School, received the Active Outdoors Award.

Ms McColl said: “It was a really nice surprise. We won for our Woodland Wellbeing Project, which is now in its fifth year supporting adults experiencing mental ill health, anxiety, depression and social isolation.”

Thanks to a County Durham Community Foundation grant, the scheme is free to anyone who needs support with their mental health, and while the funding runs out in May, Bright Woods is looking at options to keep it going because of its success, Ms McColl said.

She added that “as a tiny team of hard-working women, passionate about the environment and providing opportunities for people to connect with nature” it was fitting they received the award just before International Women’s Day.

Barnard Castle based volunteer, Roger Peat, was highly commended in the Over-18 Volunteer category, for his work of over a decade, in co-ordinating “the Workers” – a band of volunteers dedicated to keeping the town looking its best.

Associated with Barnard Christmas Lights CIC (Community Interest Company), the Workers are regularly seen gardening in beauty spots, clearing riversides of invasive plant species and tending to the town’s Remembrance Garden, Amen Corner and Roman Way picnic site.

Mr Peat said: “Usually people will get in touch and say have you seen the state of this, and can you do something about it.”

The former town councillor was also instrumental in helping create a wildflower meadow on the upper Demesnes.

Cllr Mark Wilkes, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for neighbourhoods and climate change, said: “As ever we were hugely impressed by the volume and standard of applications for what was the 34th year of our County Durham Environment Awards. This included for our new categories Active Outdoors and Responding to Climate Change – something we felt it was only right to introduce as part of our ongoing work in this area.

“These awards are intended to celebrate the brilliant work that goes on in our communities to benefit the environment and address climate change, and to raise awareness of why it is so important that we all do our bit.

“It was really difficult to pick winners given the excellent standard from Teesdale and across County Durham but I’d like to congratulate Sophie, Jack, Roger and Bright Woods Forest School on their success.”