VOLUNTEERS at the head of the fight to save the red squirrel have been recognised at a national awards ceremony held in the North East.
The Duke of Northumberland presented awards to winners of the Red Squirrel Survival Trust (RSST) Volunteer of the Year Awards 2012 at his Alnwick Castle home.
The North East, a stronghold for the creature, and Northumberland in particular, was well represented with two of the winners at the inaugural event coming from the region – Sally Hardy and Elizabeth Bamford.
The awards, which are supported by The Prince of Wales, are designed to recognise and celebrate the efforts of volunteers working around the country to protect native red squirrels.
There are an estimated 3,000 volunteers involved in conservation of the animal throughout the UK.
The 11 winners came from all around the UK to receive their awards, bringing with them the people who had nominated them – many of whom are themselves volunteers working for the same cause. Pensioner Elizabeth, from Tweedmouth, Berwick, won the Unsung Hero award for her work as lead volunteer for the Berwick Save Our Squirrels, a role that saw her visiting schools and supermarkets to raise awareness of the red squirrel as well as liaising with estate owners and gamekeepers.
She said: “I am very thrilled, it is nice to be appreciated. Generally up in the borders and Northumberland it is very pro red squirrel.”
Elizabeth said she had been happy to be “low profile” when volunteering.
Sally Hardy, from Ponteland, was a joint winner with Jackie Foott, from Sedburgh in Cumbria, in the leading light award, given to those who take the red squirrel message out to the community, schools and local groups.
The duo were given the award for their contribution in setting up Northern Red Squirrels (NRS), an umbrella organisation created to unite independent voluntary groups and individuals working to help save the creatures from extinction in the UK.
Speaking at the event, Miles Barne, RSST chairman, said: “These awards are long overdue, as we have all known for many years that without the passion, determination and sheer hard work of volunteers throughout the UK, over many years, our red squirrel conservation programme would be in a very different place today.
“Today, we stand a real chance of winning the fight against the threatened extinction of an iconic species – much loved by many and one which has a right to stake a claim to be a national emblem of all that is good about our countryside.
“That would not be possible without the hundreds, possibly thousands, of individuals who have made commitments which have been quite extraordinary.
“Red squirrel conservation would be in a far worse place were it not for these people.”
RSST works in partnership with local groups around the country. It aims to protect red squirrels by keeping reds and greys apart, stabilising new and existing populations, funding research to secure the creature’s long-term future and raising awareness of its plight.