IT'S ONE of the biggest national parks in the country, attracting millions of ramblers, dog walkers, cyclists, horse riders and families every year.

Considered one of the friendliest attractions, South Downs National Park has had virtually no cases of bad behaviour since being given national park status six years ago.

Now users of the park are now being told to be more 'polite' to each other as part of a new campaign.

But it's a campaign which has come under fire as it is costing the taxpayers £35,000 with officials hoping it will teach outdoor lovers to greet each other with cheery smiles and a polite 'hello.'

The Share the Path initiative aims to reduce the risk of confrontations before they start happening.

This decision will now see people using the parks, which stretch for thousands of miles of tracks and bridleways across three counties from Winchester to Eastbourne, being encouraged to 'be nice.'

Alex Wild from the Taxpayer’s Alliance said: “The authority has clearly lost touch with reality. This is an utterly pointless and patronising campaign – they should pull the plug on it before any more taxpayers’ money is wasted.”

The firm behind the campaign, Behaviour Change, was paid £15,000 to promote this initiative and £11,500 to make a two-minute spoof video about a rambler called George and his dog Dean – which sees their saunter through the park is constantly interrupted by chats with other users, including a bird-watcher.

A further £8,000 was spent on recruiting Street Teams dressed in bright colours to wave "Hello" signs at visitors over the Easter weekend to promote the movement.

Postcards carrying various greetings have also been handed out to walkers and cyclists.

Leader of Winchester City Council, Stephen Godfrey said it's "money well spent."

He said: "Having a chat with someone and seeing how people think is a great way to learn and improve yourself and enjoy life. If we can encourage people to go out knowing that when they get there people aren't going to be dismissive or rude then I'm all for it."

A document written by national park staff said that “Incident of conflict or actual collisions between path users are very rare, and courteous and friendly interactions are the norm.”

South Downs National Park is funded by taxpayers and receives millions of pounds from the Environment Department.

The money for Share the Path came from a £1billion Transport Department fund aimed at discouraging car use.

Andy Gattiker, national trail officer for the South Downs Way, a 100-mile route across the park, said: “The British are renowned for their courtesy, no more so than here in South Downs where you’ll almost always be greeted by a ‘hello’ or even a ‘much obliged’ on the path. We’re encouraging everybody to get into the spirit and pass on a greeting as they meet others.”

A South Downs spokesman said: “This is a light-hearted campaign. With 46 million visits a year, celebrating friendly and responsible behaviour as ‘normal’ is far more effective than telling people what they should or shouldn’t do.”