A YEAR of hard work has paid dividends for this Selby village, with a secluded conservation area now open to residents.

What started off as a community project to clear a wild village green area in Hemingbrough received a boost when rare great crested newts were found in the ponds in Hagg Lane.

The protected species helped land the Hagg Lane Green Conservation Group a £45,900 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help transform the newts' habitat.

On Sunday, the first phase of the development was officially opened by Jena Chilvers, the wife of parish council chairman Roland.

Martin Senior, a parish councilor who sits on the conservation group committee, said the opening had been a great event.

"There must have been at least 100 people there on Sunday," he said.

"Children from Hemingbrough Primary School came and Mark Bell, who has done a lot of tree management work down there, demonstrated wood carving.

"The children tried out climbing trees with Mark's equipment, and we had a treasure hunt."

He said the area, a series of ponds dating back to the 18th century, when clay for bricks was dug from the Hagg Lane site, had been hardly visible when they first started their work.

"It's brilliant going down there now," he said. "We were saying on Sunday as we were clearing away, it's difficult to remember what it was like when we started.

"Mark Bell has done a lot of tree management work. And we've spent a lot of time clearing away weeds and shrubbery."

A boardwalk, made from recycled car tyres has been placed around the site and a viewing platform for educational visits by schools has been installed.

The committee must now wait until the end of the year, when the newts' mating season has ended, to carry out work on phase two of the project. This will see ponds cleared further up Hagg Lane.

Fiona Spiers, regional manager for the Heritage Lottery Fund, said: "Few people realise that every Lottery ticket has the potential to save the UK's landscapes, countryside and creatures.

"Imagine if future generations don't have the chance to enjoy the sight of great crested newts because we didn't do enough to save them now."