Campaigners are urging a Welsh council to drop plans which, they say, will lead to the neglect of some of its public paths.

Gwynedd County Council proposes grading rights of way by their popularity, but the Open Spaces Society has expressed its concern that this will lead to scarce resources being spent on only those paths which are used regularly.

The plea comes in response to the council’s consultation on the 3,800km (2,360 miles) of mapped public rights of way in its area. The council, in north Wales, wants to grade its paths into four categories, with the top grade applying to promoted routes; category two for popular paths used mainly for leisure; category three for those with only occasional use, and category four applying to routes the council says have ‘no obvious benefit or potential’.

But Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society, said the public must be allowed to use all the paths.

She said: “All public paths are highways in law just like any road, and Gwynedd County Council has a duty to ensure they are all open and usable by the public.

“The problem is that those in categories three and four will get much lower priority and, with limited resources, the council may let them fall into neglect and disuse. That is unacceptable when people have the right to use and enjoy all of them.

“Walking, riding and cycling have never been more popular, and visitors seeking outdoor recreation bring much-needed income to the rural economy.

“Gwynedd is shooting itself in the foot if it neglects its public paths.

“We congratulate the council on its policies but hope it will abandon the idea of putting paths into categories.”

The county council’s area covers the Llŷn Peninsula, the Conwy valley, south Snowdonia and Cardigan Bay.