THOUSANDS of people have signed a petition calling on work to ‘upgrade’ a popular country walk to stop.
Work began 10 weeks ago to improve the trail that runs along the disused Meon Valley railway line from West Meon to Wickham.
But people who have used the trail for years say that the work to widen the track and to resurface it is destroying the countryside.
They say the new surface has injured horses, punctured bicycle tyres and is difficult to walk on.
A Facebook page called ‘Save our Bridleway Meon Valley Disused Railway Line’ has gained more than 2,500 followers and a petition has been signed more than 2,000 times.
Imogen Hill, from Swanmore, started the petition.
She said: ‘I was so concerned as I felt it was being destroyed, that I started the petition.
‘It needs to be preserved for future generations. We want people to come here but we want them to see the countryside in all its beauty.’
Fellow opposer Richard Stone, also from Swanmore, said the new surface – made of scalpings, or small stones from a quarry – had caused damage to horses’ hooves.
The work was commissioned by Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority at a cost of £380,000 with the aim of increasing accessibility by widening the trail, resurfacing it and putting in drainage.
The council’s executive member for the environment Sean Woodward visited the trail yesterday to look at some of the work.
It needs to be preserved for future generations. We want people to come here but we want them to see the countryside in all its beauty.Imogen Hill, from Swanmore
He said that most of the concerns had come from people who ride horses as the new surface is unsuitable for cantering on.
Cllr Woodward said: ‘We are looking at an unfinished piece of work at the moment and some people may feel differently when the work has been finished.
‘But the overriding aim is that we need to be able to cater for all, and comfortably as well, so we will be looking very carefully at the surface.’
The work is due to be finished next month, and the trail fully open by June.
A public meeting is being held at 7.30pm tomorrow at the Wickham Community Centre, where council representatives will answer questions about the work.