OFF-road enthusiasts claim they are being persecuted and forced off the hills after a landmark High Court ruling.

An appeal in London has decreed that 4x4s should be banned from an iconic Lakeland route after a legal battle which has rumbled on for five years.

Countryside campaigners and walking groups are delighted by the ruling – but off-roaders are fuming at the judgement to ban them from the Walna Scar Pass between Coniston and Seathwaite.

Alan Kidd, senior editor of the Off Road Yearbook, said: “Off-road drivers feel enormously and unfairly persecuted, that there’s a campaign of vilification against us by other user groups, particularly some of the more militant walking groups who try to paint a very unfair picture of the damage that 4x4 drivers cause.

“Motorbike and 4x4 users are by-and-large very responsible users.

"There is so much pressure on us because we feel like we’re being persecuted and watched like hawks.”

Graham Plumbe, vice-chairman of the Green Lanes Protection Group (GLPG), an alliance of 21 organisations including the Friends of the Lake District, said: "These off-road vehicles have been a nuisance since they first started hill climbing competitively in 1917 and have few supporters locally.

“The Lake District passes are part of our heritage and part of the sheer splendour of the environment.

"Motor vehicles are totally out of place on any fell pass except of course where there is a proper road.

"It’s the unsurfaced roads where we feel they’re completely out of place.

“None of us want vehicles in the countryside so if we have a good legal argument then we would employ it to prevent vehicles from using that route.

“Of course once a motor vehicle has a legal right to use a route and if it is a sustainable or legal route then we don’t oppose it.”

“Walna Scar is an important fell pass, used extensively by walkers to access Coniston Old Man.

"Sorting out the question of rights has been a battle since the law was radically changed in May 2006, but the position now is that the track is a bridleway and motorised use can be prosecuted by the police.”

Nick Fieldhouse, owner of Windermere-based off road leisure company Kankku, said: “It’s exactly the same as the Windermere speed limit - there’s been a perceived problem, a planning inspector has looked into the problem, he reports back and says ‘It shouldn’t be closed’ and then somebody higher up says ‘We’re not going to take note of the research’.

“That negativity needs to go because we’ve got to work together if we want to make the place sing.

"We’ve got to work hard and we can’t be messing about with problems like this over and over again.”

Julie Darroch, of Cumbria Tourism, said: “There’s no reason why horse riders, bike riders, 4x4 drivers and others can’t all use Walna Scar.

“We think it’s important to offer different types of experience to attract people here.

“Everybody’s got their own different types of adventure, for some people it’s going off-roading and going up difficult and technical routes because there is a real sense of adventure so in that sense, we would want people to enjoy and appreciate that type of experience.”

Off-roaders and conservationists are also fighting for access to Garburn Pass, between Kentmere and Troutbeck.

It is currently prohibited to mechanical off-road vehicles, but a final decision on its status is expected to be made by a government planning inspector next month.