The Low Barns Nature Reserve, near Witton le Wear, reopens this week following an extensive refurbishment, thanks to a successful fundraising appeal by Durham Wildlife Trust.

The redevelopment of the site, which recently featured in ‘The Times Weekend guide to the 30 best nature reserves in the UK’, includes a redesigned and redecorated interior, new facilities plus updated parking arrangements and an outdoor seating area which gives visitors the chance to get closer to nature.

The coffee shop, now under the management of the Meadow’s Coffee Shop team from Rainton Meadows, the Trust’s reserve near Houghton le Spring, will serve hot food and drinks plus homemade cakes and scones, and a new classroom and meeting space will allow the Trust to do more work with schools and the local community.

The site will continue to be supported by a team of Low Barns Ambassadors, all of them volunteers, who will offer information and advice about the reserve, its wildlife and local sightings.

The Trust undertook the significant improvements to the visitor centre having secured £88,000 from North Pennine Dales LEADER and the Weardale Area Action Partnership, as well as funds raised from the charity’s own reserves and donations from supporters.

Durham Wildlife Trust Director Jim Cokill said: ‘’We’re all really pleased with the project at Low Barns and we must thank LEADER and the Area Action Partnership for their support. The Trust has been at Low Barns since the 1960s and the site has evolved over that time, as can be seen from the new interpretation in the centre and across the reserve.

“Places like Low Barns are needed so that everyone has a chance to get closer to nature and be inspired to help us conserve the natural world for future generations.’’

David Makinson said: “I’ve been a volunteer at Low Barns for more than 20 years. It really is a hidden gem and we have a core group of regular visitors who get to enjoy the reserve and the vast array of wildlife it attracts. The updates to our visitor centre have made it much more accessible and the new coffee shop means that visitors can plan a full day here, with the chance to enjoy a hot meal for lunch. We are looking forward to welcoming lots of new people over the coming months.”

Low Barns Coffee Shop Manager, Angela Watson, said: “We’re delighted to be taking over the management of the Low Barns Coffee Shop. We have a loyal and supportive customer base up at Rainton Meadows and we look forward to getting to know the regular visitors to Low Barns as well as attracting some new customers who might not be so familiar with the site.

“Customers can expect hot food and drinks plus a selection of homemade scones and cakes, all served by our team of local staff with support from the fantastic volunteers. Our menu changes daily but we share updates about what’s on offer on our Facebook page.”

The Trust is hoping to paint the outside of the building later in the summer and there’s more work to do to improve the observation tower. In addition, there will be some work carried out in the autumn to open up views across Marston Lake from the visitor centre. If you wish to donate to help fund the work, please visit