A POPULAR footpath around an East Hampshire nature reserve could be closed for months because of safety concerns and budget cuts.

The contour path at Ashford Hangers has been closed for the foreseeable future because fallen trees, erosion and surface damage have made it “incredibly dangerous”.

The cost of tree work is around £40,000 but landowners Hampshire County Council aren’t confident of finding a contractor.

Furthermore, their Countryside Service does not have in-house funding and is facing cuts, so there’s no telling when the path will be made safe or who will carry out the work.

Cllr Russell Oppenheimer called the decision to close the path “regrettable” and knows it will disappoint walkers and people around Steep and The Hangers.

But he said the council has a duty of care, and has stressed he is committed to finding a way to get the steep path safe and reopened.

He said: “The steep slope means anyone who falls could potentially end up falling quite a long way down and we all know that chalk and clay get slippery.

“I have therefore agreed that HCC has to take the difficult decision to close the path. I would strongly encourage people not to side-step the closure because it is really not safe.”

Cllr Oppenheimer added the path is “permissive” so it’s not a formal Right of Way that appears on the county’s definitive map. The bridleway and permissive path at the bottom and top of the route, respectively, will remain open.

He added: “The cost of removing fallen trees and trees which pose a clear threat to the path has been estimated at £40,000, while the cost of resurfacing the path is unknown.

“It may be difficult to find a contractor willing to undertake the work, as there is no vehicular access. The council will explore the costs further and see what funding may be available from partners.”