HEARTLESS vandals have damaged an information panel at a popular Tyne Valley nature reserve.

Northumberland Wildlife Trust reacted furiously after criminals damaged the panel on the grassland section of the trust’s Close House Riverside reserve near Wylam.

It comes as many of the wildlife charity’s estate officers remain on furlough, while volunteers have been stood down.

This makes it difficult to repair the panel or patrol the site.

Duncan Hutt, the head of living landscapes and conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said: “Vandalism such as this is always annoying at the best of times, but when we are trying to contend with financial and practical challenges in operating a wildlife charity in a period of lockdown it’s even harder to deal with.

“While wildlife has actually been doing quite well, it’s the behaviour of people that has caused us the most problems and challenges in the past three months on a number of our reserves.”

The damage comes amid a spate of anti-social behaviour in the village of Wylam.

In May, Northumbria Police investigated after it was alleged that youths had been throwing stones at greenhouses in Wylam Allotments, while officers were also called to reports of youngsters jumping from the old railway bridge into the Tyne.

Other reports included groups of teenagers drinking alcohol and urinating in public, leaving some local residents concerned following increased levels of noise and litter.

Teenagers were warned that police would be stepping up attempts to tackle anti-social behaviour in the village.

Neighbourhood Inspector Pam Bridges said: “While we have seen a recent increase in anti-social behaviour in the area, we have now started to see an improvement thanks to targeted police patrols and partnership work.

“This has been supported by the local community who have thanked police for their efforts in policing the issue.

“Our message is clear – enjoy the warm weather responsibly and within social distancing regulations and guidance, but anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated and will be dealt with accordingly.

“We would like to reassure local residents and businesses that we will not become complacent and any further anti-social behaviour will not be taken lightly, and would encourage members of the public who see such behaviour to tell us.”

Meanwhile, Northumberland Wildlife Trust has also had issues with fly-tipping on a number of its reserves during lockdown.

Furthermore, 10 incidents of anti-social behaviour were logged by Northumbria Police on land near the trust’s reserves at Cresswell near Druridge Bay.

At the end of June, the trust threatened to close the gates at Northumberlandia in Cramlington soon after they had reopened when lockdown restrictions were eased.

It followed hundreds of people visiting the attraction and leaving a huge amount of litter, which one part-time member of staff was left to pick up due to a lack of volunteers.

The Close House Riverside reserve is home to rare calaminarian grassland, which is ideal for butterflies such as meadow brown and small skipper, and it is a place to see alpine penny-cress and dune helleborine, which can be found in the woodland.