A clean-up operation has taken place as part of efforts to preserve and protect the site of an historic County Durham bridge.

Representatives from Durham County Council and the Environment Agency spent a day sprucing up the area where the Gaunless Bridge, part of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, once stood.

The bridge, believed to be the first iron railway bridge in the world, is now on display at the National Railway Museum in York, but the original abutments remain in place in West Auckland. However, in recent years, the abutments and surrounding area have been subject to vandalism and anti-social behaviour.

In response, the Friends of the Stockton and Darlington Railway and Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone, which aims to rejuvenate and restore the historic railway in the build up to its bicentenary in 2025, have been working with the local community to look at ways to improve the area.

The initial work has seen the removal of litter and graffiti and the trimming back of undergrowth by Durham County Council’s Civic Pride and clean and green teams, with representatives from the Environment Agency clearing up the section of the River Wear near the site.

Cllr John Clare, who represents Durham County Council on the Stockton and Darlington Heritage Action Zone, said: “The Gaunless Bridge abutments are a part of the Stockton and Darlington Scheduled Monument so are of national significance. It is, therefore, incredibly important that we do all we can to preserve and protect them and the surrounding area.

“Our ambition is to make the site a place that the whole community can access and enjoy, including as a stop off on the Stockton and Darlington Railway walking and cycling route.

“This clean-up is a significant step towards developing the area for that purpose.”

Andrew Foster, specialist field operations team member for Durham and Tees at the Environment Agency, said: “The work delivered by the field operations team aims to reduce flood risk to residents, communities and properties, which perfectly fits in with the clean-up operation on the River Gaunless. We were able to implement our specialist skills to work with our partners to help rejuvenate and enhance these areas of historic significance.

“Another key element of the operation is environmental leave, as some of the people taking part in the project are volunteers, who are using their enthusiasm to do their bit for the environment and the local community.  They are working alongside our Durham and Tees field operations team, who are specialised in tackling tricky locations like rivers and waterways, and were able to retrieve some bulky items like a storm tree and even a supermarket trolley.”

For more information on efforts to preserve and improve the Gaunless Bridge area, contact Richard Starrs at planning.policy@darlington.gov.uk