STEPHEN Fry is un-bear-ably grateful to crafty volunteers helping to protect a rare species.

The broadcaster has written a letter to the Shaftesbury-based Scientific Exploration Society expressing his gratitude after willing helpers knitted miniature versions of the spectacled bear.

Society founder Colonel John Blashford-Snell will take the toys with him on his next expedition, and they will be given to children who have their teeth pulled at the dentist.

The explorer hopes the presents will help protect the bears by changing the attitudes of the next generation in the Andes.

He said: “We are absolutely awash with teddy bears since the Bournemouth Echo printed a story about it.

“There has been an extremely enthusiastic response, and Stephen Fry has said how grateful he is. It is absolutely wonderful and we are very thankful to everyone who took the time to knit a bear for the appeal.”

Shirley Critchley, of Lower Parkstone, appealed to the Daily Echo for help earlier this year.

She has been coordinating the huge effort to collect the bears, and said she has been “overwhelmed” by the response.

“One lady walked for six miles to deliver a bear, and then six miles home again,” Shirley said.

“Another, who is essentially housebound, knitted 30 for us. It has been absolutely wonderful.”

Col Blashford-Snell, who will lead the expedition this summer, promised that he would help to save the species when he attended the launch of Fry’s book, Rescuing the Spectacled Bear, more than a decade ago.

He formerly lectured at Mr Fry’s school, Uppingham, when the comedian was a schoolboy.

“When he asked me, I said, ‘I’ll do what I can, but you don’t see them in Dorset very often’,” he said.

“Stephen told me that I had inspired him with my lectures when he was just a boy. I must say, I can’t remember exactly what I said to do that, but I’m certainly glad that I was able to help.”

A team from the Society will visit Yanachaga Chemillen National Park this summer.

If you can knit a bear for the appeal, email shirley.critchley1@