CAMPAIGNERS are fighting a proposal which they say will destroy an ancient sunken highway.

The Department for Transport has issued a proposed order for the "stopping up" of a length of footpath adjacent to Hawber Cote Lane in Silsden.

Opponents say that while the path has not been in regular public use for over half a century, it remains one of the last surviving links with the community's rural past.

People are being urged to make their views known on the order, which will only be enacted if Persimmon Homes is successful in its bid to develop neighbouring fields.

Details of the order are displayed in the Banklands area of Silsden and at the town's library. The deadline for comments is Thursday, March 9.

Silsden Campaign for the Countryside describes the sunken path as "a rare Yorkshire example of a holloway".

It appears on the first known large-scale map of Silsden in 1757. The path is shown as a route from Banklands to the barn and farmworkers’ cottage of Hawber Cote, a building known to have been in existence for at least 300 years. But the path’s origins are widely believed to go back even further.

Holloways were formed in early times for the movement of people, animals and carts but have become naturally sunken after centuries of repeated use.

The campaign group has submitted details and photographs of the site to Natural England, which recently launched a project to identify and map the nation’s remaining holloways.

District and Silsden town councillor, Caroline Whitaker, says: "This hidden path played an important role in Silsden’s history and development. Even today it is still busy, providing shelter and food for a variety of wildlife.

"We simply cannot afford to lose sites that have such historical resonance, and I urge local people to swiftly make their views known to the Government as the deadline is not far away."

Concern has also been voiced about the fate of trees surrounding the holloway, particularly a long line of holly. "It is an unusual feature and very important for wildlife," says Sue Stevens, of Wharfedale Naturalists Group, whose members have visited the site.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: "The consultation period for this application runs until March 9, after which the Secretary of State will carefully consider all objections or comments received.

"It would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage."