TWO volunteers from the region have triumphed over 3,000 other nature lovers when they scooped a prestigious national award.

Between them, Peter Ditchburn and John Worsnopp from Teesdale, County Durham, have clocked up 20 years voluntary service for Natural England.

And this week, their “extraordinary commitment” was recognised with the nature conservation agency first Volunteer of the Year award.

The award celebrates the invaluable contribution volunteers make to Natural England and the pair were chosen for their work at the Moor House Upper Teesdale and Derwent Gorge and Muggleswick Woods national nature reserves (NNR) in the North Pennines.

At a ceremony at the London Wetland Centre yesterday (Thursday, February 7), Poul (CORR) Christensen, chair of Natural England, said: “For me, the accolade written by our staff on the nomination form says it all: ‘We can always rely upon Peter and John.

"Without them, many of the practical tasks or other NNR work would not happen.

“They provide a cheerful and enthusiastic addition to the team, and are great advocates for volunteering for Natural England.”

Mr Ditchburn and Mr Worsnopp had volunteered at the reserves almost every week throughout the last decade.

From inspecting mineshafts and carrying out practical jobs; to giving television and radio interviews, writing newsletters and leading volunteer parties and guided walks – the pair have enthusiastically all manner of tasks.

Mr Ditchburn, from Cotherstone, said it was a privilege to win the award.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a dull day working as a volunteer for Natural England,” he said.

“Martin Furness, the manager for the North Pennines nature reserves, sets the standard for quality and quantity of work: he is the unsung hero.

“I’ve gained a whole new social sphere through volunteering for Natural England.

“Getting this award is great public recognition for our work, which is all about putting something back into the environment.”

Mr Worsnopp, from Eggleston, added: “The North Pennines is a tough, but magnificent, environment to work in.

"There is so much variety. It is really enjoyable.”

There are currently 3,000 Natural England volunteers who contribute the equivalent of 29,300 working days each year.

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