A FOUR-YEAR multimillion pound project to conserve and celebrate Northumberand’s Allen Valleys began in April.

Projects include the preservation of historic buildings, restoration of hay meadows, management of woodlands and wildlife, and the creation of an observatory.

The North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) said that the Allen Valleys Landscape Partnership Scheme had been in the pipeline since 2009, but confirmation of a £1.7m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund meant it could now begin.

Andy Lees, the AONB partnership’s scheme manager, couldn’t wait to get started.

“The Allen Valleys boast outstanding natural and built heritage features that will benefit from sympathetic management, increased care and interpretation opportunity,” he said.

“Without major intervention now some of these irreplaceable assets could be lost for ever. With this money, and the help of a wide range of partners, we aim to breathe new life into the area’s special qualities.”

Ivor Crowther, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North-East, said: “We were impressed with this project’s vision for the area and the commitment and support that local communities have given to the scheme.”

Additional match funding, means more than £2.7m will be injected into the local economy, with two full-time jobs and a series of year-long traineeships.

During the first year, the AONB partnership plans to establish an electric bike network with local businesses, create a community growing space, restore wildlife habitat and start to consolidate one of the area’s key heritage structures, Allen Mills, which at the height of lead mining, was one of the most active smelting centres in the North of England.

Other sites targeted for regeneration include Deneholme woodland garden, Barney Craig mine shop and Ninebanks Hearse House.

The Allen Valleys cover about 20,000 hectares of the catchments of the rivers East and West Allen, in southwest Northumberland, and local people and businesses have been involved in the project from the start and will continue to be.

Mr Lees said: “We want to find ways during the next four years to create sustainable projects that will go on beyond the life of the scheme.

This is just the start.

“Plans for a community micro-hydro project will support renewable energy generation which we hope, in turn, will provide an income that will allow these projects to continue way into the future.”

Chris Woodley-Stewart, AONB partnership director, said: “Our role in the scheme might only last until 2018 but we hope it has far-reaching benefits that will be felt by many generations to come.

“We are very pleased we can now put plans into practice and start this exciting project.”