A VILLAGE environmental group is heartbroken after its prized bird hide was destroyed by arsonists.
The facility at Ellington Nature Reserve was burnt to the ground on Sunday afternoon in a deliberate attack.
The hide, which was worth around £15,000, had only been in place for about a year after it was erected by the Ellington Pond Group as one of a number of improvements to an area off Cresswell Road to turn the overgrown five-acre site into a disability-friendly nature reserve.
The project was supported by the Big Lottery Fund and Groundwork North East and included new walkways, a dipping pier, seats and information boards.
But now volunteers have to decide whether to continue investing in the site after some of their hard work was undone by vandals.
Member George Jackson, a parish councillor, said: “It really is devastating.
“This project was something that people really believed in and we were all committed volunteers. I hope we are still going to carry on, but we are going to meet this week and decide how to proceed.
“I would hope personally that we would rebuild the hide, but in what form I can’t say. If we give into this mindless behaviour then we far better pack up now and not try to do anything more.
“A little bit of litter or things you could expect and we didn’t go into this project with a view that that wasn’t going to happen, but the thought was that if we didn’t do it then we wouldn’t have it. We never expected this though.
“What has happened on Sunday is devastating and it does make you think why do you bother, but after a while you do come round and I think we will carry on.”
The alarm was raised at about 3.25pm when thick black smoke was spotted at the site.
Police and firefighters attended the blaze.
A group of five youths was seen in the area at the time and police are keen to trace them.
Coun Jackson said: “We have had a few instances of youngsters going into the hide and leaving their litter behind and there have been a couple of instances where they have tried to burn the hide, but it is made largely out of recycled plastic and we were assured that to set it alight you would have to have a continuous flame for a long time so whoever did this must have used some sort of fuel.
“It is hard to pinpoint why it was done. Whoever has done this has total disregard for the efforts that people put in. A lot of the local youngsters are gutted about it as well because they have nowhere to sit now.
“We have had three good community events at the reserve with lots of people there and it was great that the whole community came together. The area is well appreciated and even dog walkers make sure they don’t leave any mess. To see this happen is heartbreaking for the whole community.”
He added: “Kids are kids and we were all teenagers at one time, it is part of growing up to lark about, but we didn’t go around destroying stuff.
“It is all right having fun and a carry on, but take care of your community. Take care of what you have got and cherish it because it is for your kids as well.”
Ashington Police Inspector Barrie Joisce said: “This appears to have been a mindless act of vandalism, which has caused extensive damage and deprived the local community of a valuable facility.
“This kind of criminal behaviour will not be tolerated and inquiries will be continuing to bring those responsible to account.”
Anyone with information about the incident should contact police on 101, ext 69191, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.