A VOLUNTEER group which has dedicated decades to looking after the countryside of County Durham has disbanded because it has run out of funding.

The Durham Voluntary Countryside Rangers Service (DVCRS) has been tending the county’s paths, picnic spots and other green areas since it was founded in 1971.

But it had to stop its work earlier this year as a result of Durham County Council cuts and has been merged into a bigger volunteering group.

An event was held last night to celebrate the work of the group and unveil a plaque at Wharton Park, in Durham.

Former member Dave Drinkwater, who was part of the organisation for around 16 years, said: “I think a lot of us are very sad. We are all people of a certain age and we worked well together because we all have an interest in the countryside.

“There must have been 200 people plus who have given their time to the count. Some members had been there for 40 years and feel like something significant has been taken out of their lives.

“The countryside department has agreed to fund a plaque for us so we are very appreciative of it. I’m glad they are choosing to commemorate 46 years of volunteering.

“When it was formed the majority of the countryside was covered in pit heaps and we played a part in creating many of the picnic spots and path networks along the old railway lines as well as create a public walking programme.”

Earlier this year members were given the option of getting rid of the group or setting it up as a self-funding independent organisation.

It has now been absorbed into a bigger volunteering group.

Mr Drinkwater added: “We had the option of becoming a self-financing group but most of us felt it was going to be too difficult because we weren’t sure where we could get finance from.

“Most of us think we should go on and do what we can in the larger organisation but it has the feeling that they’ve taken away the comradeship of the countryside volunteers."

Darryl Cox, Durham County Council’s principal parks and countryside ranger, said: “The way we manage our volunteers has changed and rather than have its own management structure, the DVCRS has now become part of a wider group.

"A new online portal has been developed and although day-to-day roles for our volunteers will remain the same, the new system provides greater opportunities for those who want to get involved in other events and makes it easier to match up their skills to the most appropriate roles.

“As a council we are extremely grateful for all of the work our volunteers do and as a mark of our gratitude for those who have worked for DVCRS, we have installed a plaque on a bench at Wharton Park to say thank you for the real difference they make to our parks and countryside across the county.”