RESTORATION projects on paths and trails are turning popular routes onto the Lake District fells into 'sterile staircases', it is being claimed.

Volunteer partnership groups like Fix the Fells work to repair and maintain paths in the national park, but calls are being made for them to consult much more with the public before they carry out irreversible projects.

The restoration work uses traditional Lakeland techniques to keep walkways in useable condition, but one particular method is being called into question.

It is being claimed that stone pitching – interlocking large stones to create small irregular steps – has become too widespread in the national park.

Now, a petition calling for 'unnecessary stone pitching' to stop has surfaced online.

"Some of our iconic walks and scrambles in the Lake District have been turned into staircases without open discussion on public opinion," reads the petition. "This homogenisation of a considerable number of paths in the Lake District is against the will of many walkers and path users.

"Maintenance of paths and bridleways is important and generally Fix the Fells does a good service. However, the stone pitching on areas with little erosion is ruining the experience of these trails which are now being changed forever without the voice of many users being heard."

The petition quickly gathered support with more than 1,000 people putting their name to it, with many providing their reasons for doing so.

"I'm a walker and a mountain bike guide that lives in the Lakes," said Anthony Laycy. "Some of the trails I regularly use both for business and leisure have been changed radically and I would like to see trails in certain areas are well preserved rather than obliterated."

Ruth Burgess added: "The LDNPA and Fix the Fells need to put a process in place to consult path and bridleway users properly before work is carried out. Both walkers and mountain bikers are saying that the reconstruction methods aren't fit for purpose."

Others say the pitched stones are 'dangerous' in the wet, 'unsightly' and lead to 'sanitisation' of the Lake District.

Fix the Fells is made up of five partner organisations, working together to protect the Lakeland fells from erosion.

Programme manager Joanne Backshall said: “We’re always happy to hear what people think about the work we’re doing to protect the Lakeland fells from erosion.

“The vast majority of the feedback we receive is supportive and appreciative of the work we do to repair damage to fell paths in a sustainable and considered way.

“The Lake District fells are very popular with walkers, bikers and for other outdoor activities. These activities, combined with rainwater, can lead to the erosion of fell paths. As a conservation programme, Fix the Fells works to repair damaged paths. We’ll always look for a traditional and sustainable way to do this, with the least impact on the natural landscape. Sometimes stone pitching is necessary as the only option to conserve and protect the fells.”

Derek Cockell, secretary of The Wainwright Society, said: "The society's main concerns are the conservation and protection of the landscape in the Lake District.

"Erosion on fellwalking routes has been a problem for many years and the reasons can be complex. Decisions about the repair of footpaths should be made based on the best professional advice available. What is important is that the method of repair should be appropriate for the terrain and, whichever technique is used, the repair should be sustainable in the long-term."

One particular project which is being scrutinised by members of the Facebook group Lake District Mountain Bike Association is at Boredale Hause.

Group chairman Geoff Cross, of Ulverston, said the work being undertaken at the site 'far exceeded' the scale of what mountain bikers were told would be done.

"We understand that work needs to be done to the park and that there needed to be stone pitching, but only in certain sections," he said. "From the evidence we've seen, we're terrified it's going to end up being all the way from the top to the bottom of the pass.

"All these different bridleways have unique characteristics. If you start sanitising them to the point they all become the same kind of staircases, they will lose that individuality.

"It's the level of work that is going on that concerns us. We always knew there was going to be sections of stone pitching but we want everybody to be able to enjoy the fells."

Gordie Oliver, of Bassenthwaite, regularly takes part in Lake District volunteering initiatives and he believes there is a wider issue of people being too quick to jump on the back of unsubstantiated opinions.

"I have real concerns about current social media-based petitions going on in the Lake District where anybody can start any campaign and throw all this negative PR around without reference to who they are," he said.

"My concern is the Lake District is turning into a reactive and irrational place for campaigns like this.

"These thousands of people signing different petitions generally don't have a clue what they're talking about. My questions would be have these people put their issues to Fix the Fells? What research have they done? Have they got their facts right?"

He added: "Although you might not agree with pitched footpaths, they've been around for hundreds of years and Fix the Fells is an amazing organisation. It's one of the few Lake District charities that does a lot of really good work for the landscape. They get money in and it goes straight back into the Lake District."