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Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has thrown his backing behind RSPB Saltholme’s visitor drive during a trip to the nature reserve.

Saltholme is one of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ biggest centres in the UK. It currently welcomes 80,000-85,000 people through its doors each year and now aims to hit 100,000 visitors in 2018.

Mayor Houchen’s trip came in the run up the 20th anniversary of the Teesside Environmental Trust, which was created in April 1998 to establish the environmental centre and act as a representative to the wider community. RSPB Saltholme now employs more than 20 full-time staff, with more than 100 part-time volunteers.

Saltholme staff are also keen to work alongside the South Tees Development Corporation and bring their expertise and experience to the 4,500 acre area south of the River Tees, making it as environmentally aware as possible.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “RSPB Saltholme is incredibly important as both a tourist attraction and a place for wildlife to thrive.

“In the nine short years since the reserve has been running, it has become a vital tourist attraction as well as an economic asset to the area but more can be done.

“I’ve asked our culture and tourism team to determine how best to help Saltholme thrive and develop for generations to come.

“South Tees Development Corporation’s regeneration plans are strongly built around the environment. I look forward to working closely with RSPB Saltholme, the Teesside Environmental Trust and partners to deliver our proposals.”

RSPB Saltholme’s Senior Site Manager, David Braithwaite, said: “We were delighted to meet the Mayor and outline our plans for the future of Saltholme and demonstrate how far we have come.

“His appreciation of all of our hard work and response to our discussions were incredibly encouraging as we look to develop Saltholme along with South Gare and National Nature Reserve for Teesside.”

David Kitchen, Chair of Teesside Environmental Trust, said: “It was great to hear that the Mayor is as committed to environmental projects as he is to businesses. Economic development and nature conservation can work together to bring jobs and environment creation.

“Going forward, it is in the interests of both of our sectors to work alongside one another to keep Tees Valley’s economy profiting from the green pound as well as business investment.

“We are keen to discuss our ideas further with the Combined Authority and South Tees Development Corporation.”