Ridgeway visitors urged not to damage historic route

Visitors to the Ridgeway National Trail in the south of Oxfordshire are being urged not to drive or park where they are not allowed, following an increase in reports of damage to the ancient trackway.

An increase in visitor numbers is expected over the Christmas holiday period at the historic trail, as families head for the popular walking route. It comes at a time when the trail is already busier than ever and the surface is vulnerable to damage because of the wet conditions.

Oxfordshire County Council’s Ridgeway Officer, Sarah Wright, said: “We want to raise awareness of how to care for the trail. With so many visitors, it’s even more important that everyone uses the trail safely and responsibly.

“Just one car driving over wet ground can create a long stretch of wheel ruts that costs tens of thousands of pounds to repair and it is especially galling when the driver shouldn’t have been driving along there in the first place. With the route being so historic, visitors could unwittingly damage irreplaceable archaeology when they park on verges.”

There has been a rise in reports of people riding motorcycles and driving 4x4s along The Ridgeway National Trail. Some relate to criminal activities, while others concern visitors parking on verges when parking areas are full.

It is an offence to drive on The Ridgeway where there are no public rights to do so and the landowner’s permission has not been given. During the winter, the only part of The Ridgeway National Trail open to the public to drive vehicles is the three-mile Byway section in the Swindon borough area, from Fox Hill to the county boundary near Bishopstone.

There is no public right to drive on the trail where it follows a public footpath, bridleway, or restricted byway. Public rights to drive cars or motorcycles apply only to routes signed as ‘Byways Open to All Traffic’ and vehicles must be road legal. Drivers should always check on-site signage before proceeding.

In Oxfordshire, there are no Byway stretches along The Ridgeway, so the public should not be driving on it at all.

Wantage Neighbourhood and Wildlife Officer PC Darren James, said: “As a vehicle owner, it is your responsibility to check for the relevant signage to be sure access is lawful.

“We continue to patrol The Ridgeway and work with our partners in local authorities to tackle those who choose to disregard the laws that are in place to protect our wildlife and open spaces.

“Your information can help us to investigate crimes of this nature. Therefore, if you suspect that a crime has taken place, you can report it to police online or by calling the non-emergency number, 101. If an incident is in progress, or there is an immediate threat to life, you should call 999.”

The police carry out patrols on The Ridgeway and have powers to confiscate vehicles involved in illegal activities. Where possible, the Ridgeway officers provide information to the police to help them tackle offenders.

The Ridgeway’s website gives details about what activities are possible where, including an interactive map. Visit www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ridgeway/information

Landowners can drive on the trail if they own the land and give permission for others to do so, but they must not endanger the public or damage the surface of the trail in the process.