RAMBLERS are stepping up a campaign for a major cash investment to be made in improving footpaths which have been condemned as among the worst in the country.

A recent survey carried out by the Government's Countryside Agency showed that only 22 per cent of paths in North Yorkshire were easy to follow, compared to a national average of 62 per cent.

Nearly 3,300 of the county's stiles needed repair work and 921 were branded unusable by the report.

The findings gave further ammunition to campaigners who have been calling for the county council to plough extra funds into improving the state of footpaths and rights of way, particularly after the lifting of restrictions imposed by foot-and-mouth disease.

Now, the Ramblers' Association is pressing council chiefs to commit an extra £600,000 over the next three years to the rights of way budget, as well as doubling the number of staff in the field to 16.

It says that such an investment is justified because there would be major benefits from increased numbers of tourists visiting the area.

Keith Wadd, spokesman for the Ramblers' Association's West Riding area, said: "The results of the Countryside Agency survey confirm what we have been saying for several years about the poor state of North Yorkshire's footpaths. To get them into good condition would be an asset for the healthy recreation of all who live in the county and it would also boost tourism."

Nearly all of the paths closed because of foot-and-mouth - including those in the Upper Wensleydale and Thirsk hot-spots - have been reopened.

However, senior council officers have insisted that additional grants will be spent on maintenance of the county's 9,000km network of footpaths and that tougher action will be taken against landowners obstructing routes.

North Yorkshire fared better in the agency's report for its provision of sign-posts on paths, but its figure of 62 per cent was still below the national average of 67 per cent