MILES of historic stone causeways look set to be permanently closed after being systematically destroyed by 4x4 drivers wanting to test their off-road skills.

Three green lanes, or trods, in the North York Moors National Park, which were probably created in the early medieval era, have been closed in the last three weeks after groups of off-road driving enthusiasts spent hours turning them into “4x4 playgrounds”.

The national park’s authority has been joined by numerous groups, including the British Off-Road Driving Association, in condemning the vandalism to the county’s 730km network of trods, which are lawfully used by hundreds of thousands of horse riders, hikers and motorcyclists.

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A spokesman for the association, which provides off-road training on private land for emergency service drivers, said: “Off-road drivers are all being tarred with the same brush as a handful spoil it for everyone else.”

Following 15 4ft by 3ft trod stones, each weighing about 50kg, being lifted from Seggimire Lane, at Ugglebarnby, near Whitby, and thrown into a ditch on December 27, to create an off-road course, North Yorkshire County Council said the route had become so dangerous it had to close it.

An activity monitor on the lane recorded three hours of vehicle movements, as a 200-metre stretch was left with deep ruts while the drivers also ripped out shrubs to create a test track.

A council spokesman said: “Unfortunately, we have no option but to close the lane as a result of this inconsiderate and illegal activity by a few thoughtless drivers, whose enjoyment of this historic route amounts to little short of vandalism.”

North York Moors National Park Authority archaeologist Graham Lee said the trods were probably of “considerable antiquity” as few landowners other than the medieval monasteries would have had the resources to create them. Due to the isolated nature of the trods, which are an integral feature of the area’s economic and industrial history, they are difficult to police and it is thought unlikely that anyone will be prosecuted.

However, in response to 4x4 drivers and motorcyclists showing a lack of consideration and intimidating green lane users in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where green lanes have also been closed, park rangers and police have teamed up to monitor activities.

Damage to the closed trods in the Moors, which include Monket Bank and Rudland Rigg to Toad Hole, both near Kirkbymoorside, is likely to be considered too expensive to repair as the council faces making spending cuts of £93m by 2014-15.