THE guardians of England’s largest scheduled monument have urged inconsiderate 4x4 drivers to keep off the ancient site.

Cockfield Fell, near Bishop Auckland, has been enjoyed by generations of walkers and livestock owners as common land.

The 350 hectare site features evidence of pre-Roman settlements and industrial use, as it was used for coal mining until 1962.

The fell is broken into a traditional grazing system of stints- with one stint giving the right to graze one sheep.

Stint holders pay an annual rent to the Fell Reeves, who then use the funds to manage the land.

The group currently has growing concerns about damage caused to the land by off-road vehicles.

Secretary Joanne Bainbridge said: “People think it’s a recreational area for 4x4s but unfortunately people just cannot go on as they please; it’s an ancient monument.

“Drivers have been riding round and it’s causing a problem for the livestock- they they have no right to be there.”

Mrs Bainbridge said the only exception for vehicles to be taken onto the site is for farmers who need to rescue animals or deliver feed and even then strict rules apply.

She said: “It’s quite frustrating because it’s an ancient monument and people like to walk over it but if you drive on it, it will just become a mess.

“I do believe it’s not just local people but also people coming from quite a distance because it’s been put on social media that it’s a site for 4x4 off-roading but it isn’t.”

Mrs Bainbridge said the Reeves would consider restricting access to the Fell but that is difficult as people also need to get to the adjoining cemetery.

The group, which has about a dozen members, also works with Historic England.

Lee McFarlane, inspector of ancient monuments at Historic England in the North East, said: “Cockfield Fell contains archaeological remains from the prehistoric period through to the 19th century and is a very important scheduled monument, which is protected by law.

“We are very concerned about the damage by 4x4 vehicles to the archaeology on the site and will be working with the landowner and the police to restrict vehicle access to ensure Cockfield Fell can be enjoyed by future generations.”