CAMPAIGNERS are fighting to save Winchester woodland used for BMX and mountain bike trails for more than 20 years from being bulldozed.

Thousands have signed a petition to save the green space next to the St Catherine's Park and Ride.

Users of the trails say Winchester City Council are planning to clear the spot to make way for a 14-bay coach parking area.

A petition to save Bar End Trails -which is owned by Hampshire County Council- attracted more than 1,000 signatures in the first 24 hours and has since garnered more than 17,000.

It says that the council move is to help pull more tourists into the city.

It states: "We believe access to local woodland for both cycling and witnessing nature first hand is more important than inflating Winchester’s visitor numbers.

"While we support Winchester City Council's aim to keep coaches out of the town centre, we strongly urge them to make better use of the neglected Southern Park and Ride site, particularly Area 6, as opposed to pulling down mature woodland.

"If Area 6 is somehow not sufficient for the additional coaches, there are around ten acres of flat grassland at the southern end of the South Park and Ride which would be far less disruptive to local wildlife, residents and cyclists."

Rory O'Sullivan 37, of St Cross Road, Winchester, has been using the trails since 1997.

He said: "They are very seasonal, so we use them between April and October.

"We sometimes can have numbers in excess of 100 there, and we have people coming over from the USA to use them. My three boys are seven, five and three and they are always mucking around down there.

"Its just a lovely place we have always had - it's kind of the antithesis of staying in on your Playstation.

"We estimate we have put in around 40,000 man hours by hand making it. It is very informal and that is the charm of it really - anyone can just turn up and ride."

He added that he had met with Winchester City Council to give them a presentation on the site, but had since learnt that they wanted to go ahead the plans.

"I think they have had a lot of survey work done and put money into it. It is embarrassing for them to have to back pedal," he said.

The trails, which have been built and maintained over the last 21 years, are free for all and are used by local children as young as five.

A Hampshire County Council spokesperson said: “We are in early talks with Winchester City Council about the possibility of making available land at Bar End for coach parking to help reduce coach movements through the city centre.

“There will be a number of considerations to take into account before a final decision is made. We have started discussions with the BMX community who currently use the site about how they might be best accommodated going forward.”

A Winchester City Council spokesman said: “At present coaches which bring visitors to Winchester are directed to drop passengers off in the Broadway and then to park in the coach parking facility at Worthy Lane. This means that they have to enter the one-way system for both journeys, adding to congestion and air pollution which the city council is seeking to reduce.

"The city council has therefore approached Hampshire County Council to make available land it owns adjacent to the existing park and ride facilities which can be used for coach parking in place of Worthy Lane.

"The land identified at Bar End Copse has been used informally for BMX cycling. Talks will continue in the coming months between the city council, county council and BMX cyclists aimed at finding a solution which meets the cyclists’ requirements. No final decisions have been taken about the proposal.”