VOLUNTEERS have a year to save a popular tourist attraction.

The Colne Valley Railway, in Castle Hedingham, is visited by about 40,000 people each year.

But the site’s owner, an Australian property developer, has given the Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society until next year to find the money to buy the land.

The exact amount has not been disclosed.

Representatives from the railway preservation society have attended parish council meetings in both Sible Hedingham and Castle Hedingham to outline the situation.

It hopes to apply to the Heritage Lottery Fund to help raise the money it needs.

No-one from the society was available to speak yesterday, but Nick Ellis, the society’s volunteer archivist, addressed Sible Hedingham parish councillors about the situation.

He said the site was bought by a developer in 2006, but he nowwants to sell the land.

The original Colne Valley and Halstead Railway was built in the 1850s, but closed in the Sixties before being restored by volunteers.

Castle Hedingham Parish Council chairman Sonia Allfrey said the railway and Hedingham Castle were the key to the area’s tourism industry.

She said: “It is vitally important for us, along with the castle, to keep people here spending money in our villages and make a whole day out of it.

“The railway society came and gave a presentation and we said we certainly support them.

“They are hoping to raise money to make extensions and all sorts of things – they were all very positive and they are trying to get lottery money.”

An Essex County Council spokesman said: “In addition to the support already provided by Essex County Council officers regarding business planning and fundraising options, the county council can confirm that it will be providing a grant of £2,500 this year for Colne Valley Railway to support and develop their bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund.”

Braintree MP Brooks Newmark said: “The Colne Valley Railway is a unique attraction in our district and provides young and old alike with an opportunity to see Britain’s great railway heritage up close.

“I have taken my children there in the past and will do what I can to ensure the Colne Valley Railway has a long-term, viable future.”