AVEBURY is leading the charge to get damaged byways fixed and protected.

Routes around the village, and the nearby ancient historic site of Windmill Hill are now so badly damaged that they have become impassable.

Rogue 4 x 4 enthusiasts - some who travel from as far afield as Germany to drive some of Wiltshire's 695km of by ways - are being blamed for the damage.

The campaign is being supported by the countryside charity CPRE. Anne Henshaw, the Wiltshire representative said:

"I am trying to form a charity/community not for profit group of parishes and other interested parties to set up something similar to the Cotswold Warden scheme," she said.

This could see some of the byways closed to traffic at certain times of the year to protect them from heavy traffic use.

Stephen Stacey, chairman of Avebury Parish Council said:

"These by ways are for everyone's use, but the actions of a few selfish people have made them inaccessible.

"We would like interested parties like ramblers, horse and bike riders and other local authorities to work together, and perhaps work with Wiltshire Council to see if we can come up with a solution between us."

Some of the byways are so badly damaged that tree roots are exposed, and the ruts are more than two feet deep in places.

Solutions, he said, could include a volunteer force using council equipment and materials to make repairs as he says cut backs at Wiltshire Council are to blame for the disrepair.

4x4 groups are defending themselves, and say Wiltshire Council's lack of maintenance is the issue. John Lippiat is Wiltshire's Green Lane Association representative.

"It is my experience that the great majority of 4x4 motorised users go out of their way to be responsible in their use of the rights of way network. It is a fact that with recent extreme weather events all highways tarmacked or otherwise have been subject to high wear and tear, this giving the anti-vehicle lobby a short term added opportunity to criticise us.’

He added that volunteers from his organisation contributed more than 90 hours to the maintenance of public rights of way.

"Yes, there are some that abuse their right, but the majority want a well maintained network to explore, and in return are will to put volunteer time back into the network to help maintain it."

Wiltshire Council spends approximately £100,00 each year on the repair and maintenance of byways open to all traffic.

Cllr Bridget Wayman, Cabinet Member for Highways, said: “If damage is caused by irresponsible and/or illegal vehicular use it may be necessary to temporarily close a route until it can be repaired or impose a traffic regulation order to restrict or prohibit vehicles for as long as necessary, this could be all year round until the byway recovers, or permanently.”