A rare nature habitat has earned extra protection following its purchase by wildlife experts.
Herrington Hill, on the edge of Sunderland, is classed as primary magnesian limestone grassland which has remained undisturbed for centuries.
Durham Wildlife Trust (DWT) has now bought the 17-acre site from its private owner after raising the money from the Banister Charitable Trust and an anonymous donation.
Mark Richardson, DWT's reserves manager, said: “This is a rare and precious wildlife habitat and by acquiring it the trust can ensure that it is protected forever.
"The positive difference nature makes to our everyday lives is being realised more and more and the first step to protecting wildlife for future generations is to make sure special places like Herrington Hill are protected.’’
Herrington Hill, lies around three miles to the north of DWT’s headquarters at Rainton Meadows.
Mr Richardson said: “The majority of Herrington Hill is a primary magnesian limestone grassland, one that has remained undisturbed for centuries, and this 17-acre site represents more than 10 per cent of the total area of this habitat found in the UK.
“Due to its importance, the area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific interest (SSSI) by the Government.
‘’It supports a wide range of unusual plant species, such as blue moor-grass, a particular feature of magnesian limestone grasslands.
"There are also a wide range of wildflowers including carline thistle, common rock-rose, bird’s-foot trefoil, cowslip, fairy flax and wild thyme. The grassland is also rich in insects and meadow brown and common blue butterflies are abundant during the summer months.’’
Dating as far back as 225 million years, the amount of magnesian limestone grassland nationwide has declined markedly since the Second World War through agricultural practices such as ploughing, reseeding and increased use of fertilisers..