VISITORS to a popular footpath and bridle way in the south of Oxfordshire have been urged not to ‘drive or park’ on the trail, following an alarming rise in reports of damage.

With more people set to head to the Ridgeway National Trail over the festive period, Oxfordshire County Council warned of potential harm caused to Britain’s oldest road, which could cost tens of thousands of pounds.

It comes at a time when the trail is already much busier than ever and the surface vulnerable to damage.

This is due to the wet conditions caused by rain over the last months.

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Ridgeway officer for the Oxfordshire County Council Sarah Wright highlighted: "We want to raise awareness of how to care for the trail.

"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 should not 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."

%image('12141509', type='article-full', caption='Britain's oldest road could be getting ruined by illegal drivers disregarding restrictions', alt='Britain's oldest road could be getting ruined by illegal drivers disregarding restrictions')

Recently, there has been a rise in reports of people riding motorcycles and driving 4x4s along the Ridgeway National Trail.

Some of these even relate to criminal activities.

The authority pointed out that 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 trail open to the public to vehicles is the three-mile Byway section in the Swindon borough area, from Fox Hill to the county boundary near Bishopstone.

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Wantage Neighbourhood and Wildlife officer PC Darren James commented: "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 such crimes."

PC James pointed out that the police often carry out patrols on the trail and have powers to confiscate vehicles involved in such illegal activities.

Where possible, the Ridgeway officers also provide information directly to the force to help them tackle offenders.

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