6th April 2020

Road signs and grit bins targeted in rural vandalism spree

Vandalised Road Sign

Historic fingerpost signs recently restored by volunteers are among the victims of recent rural vandalism in Somerset.

A number of other road signs, traffic cones and grit bins have also been targeted.

With the cost of repairs ultimately falling on taxpayers, Somerset County Council is urging anyone with information about the crimes to report it to the police.

Since November, 25 signs in the parishes of Upton, Elworthy, Nettlecombe, Monksilver, Chipstable, Clatworthy, Brompton Ralph, Lydeard St Lawrence and Treborough have been sprayed with graffiti, ranging from blackouts to offensive symbols and slogans.

Traffic cones and grit bins – purchased by parish councils and filled with salt by the County Council to help communities clear ice and snow in winter – have also been set on fire and destroyed.

The vandals have obscured stop and give way signs, changed speed limits, and defaced historic fingerposts which were recently restored by community-minded volunteers.

Councillor John Woodman, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, said: “It is incredibly sad to see graffiti on our iconic fingerposts which have been in place for decades and lovingly restored by volunteers.

“It is also alarming to see grit bins destroyed, important safety signs obscured and speed limits changed with spray paint – mindless actions which put road users at risk.

“This is not a victimless crime – ultimately as taxpayers we all end up footing the bill for needless repairs and it diverts precious funds which could otherwise be spent on improving infrastructure.

“If anyone knows anything then please contact the police immediately.”

Neighbourhood Sergeant Dan Bishop said: “Mindless acts of vandalism such as these are an unnecessary drain on police resources with valuable time spent assessing reports and investigating when appropriate.

“Patrols have been targeted at the locations affected in this instance to provide reassurance to the community and to act as a deterrent to whoever is responsible.

“Anyone with information about these incidents is asked to contact us via our non-emergency number 101.”

The Somerset Fingerpost Restoration Project was set up by Somerset County Council and the Southwest Heritage Trust in 2016 to help preserve and protect historic signs at a time when council budgets were under severe pressure due to government funding cuts.

Exmoor National Park Authority, with support from the Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund, has since run a hugely successful project in West Somerset with more than 100 volunteers recruited and more than 200 signs restored to date, including some of those targeted.

Shirley Blaylock, Historic Environment Officer at Exmoor National Park, said: “We’re shocked and appalled at the damage done to these historic signs, not least because of the careful work that has recently gone into restoring them by local volunteers. We hope the news will not be too demoralising to those who gave up their time to keep alive a piece of Somerset’s heritage and have pride in their local community. We will do all we can to help the police with their investigations.”

More information about the Exmoor Historic Signposts Project can be found at https://www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk/get-involved/exmoor-historic-signpost-project.

You can find out more about the county-wide Somerset Fingerpost Restoration Project at https://www.somerset.gov.uk/waste-planning-and-land/somerset-fingerpost-restoration-project/.

Anyone with any information about the vandalism can contact police on 101 quoting reference number 5220004562.

Somerset County Council looks after more than 4,170 miles of road and in 2018/19 invested £24.7m to keep the county moving, including filling 18,519 potholes and delivering 385 highway maintenance schemes ranging from drainage works to carriageway and footway resurfacing.

You can follow the highways team on Twitter @TravelSomerset.