GREEN campaigners are worried less popular footpaths in Oxfordshire could fall into disrepair.

The fears have been prompted by Oxfordshire County Council, which is responsible for maintaining rights of way, after it asked town and parish councils to rank the paths in their area by usage.

About 50 town and parish councils have been sent a letter asking them to divide the paths in their area into two categories of usage as part of a trial.

Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said this could lead to some footpaths being “relegated” and becoming overgrown.

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She said: “We want the county council to stop discriminating between public paths when it has a duty to take care of them all.”

Helen Marshall, the director of the Oxfordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said she shared the concerns.

She said: “People need to trust that whichever footpath they use, it will be accessible and well-maintained or the risk is they will stop using a path at all.

“Walking is good for people and good for the planet, and the county council should be doing some joined-up thinking alongside its commitment to low carbon and healthy communities.

“Our footpath network is something our nation should be really proud of, and we should be doing all we can to encourage more people to use it, not working out which bits we can downgrade.”

The county council is legally responsible for maintaining rights of way, which are classified as minor highways and protected in law like other roads.

It also maintains a definitive map of all of Oxfordshire’s rights of way which was last updated in 2006 – for only the fourth time since 1946.

Council spokesman Dominic Llewellyn-Jones said: “The council respects and upholds its responsibility to maintain the 2,600 miles of rights of way across Oxfordshire and will continue to do so.

“An exercise was conducted as a first research step in order to better understand the rights of way network with a small sample of around 50 parish and town councils selected.

“This fact-finding step will start to allow the council to build up a better picture of usage.

“If this study is extended then the results will help inform decisions to ensure that management of those routes most appropriately reflect the needs of their users.

“The council does not currently have any proposals to reduce funding further in this area.”

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