Officials at Oxfordshire County Council have been praised for reopening footpaths quickly after the foot and mouth crisis.

Government environment minister Beverley Hughes said councils across the country were keeping a large majority of paths closed with no justification.

But in Oxfordshire, she said, the council had taken a balanced judgement of needs and opened paths where they could safely do so.

Ms Hughes said: "There is no reason why the worst-performing authorities can't achieve a similar or better performance.

"I urge all councils, especially those outside infected areas, to speed up their progress towards opening up rights of way where it is safe to do."

Keith Wheal, countryside services manager for the county council, said: "We are pleased that the minister recognises that the app- roach we are taking is the right one. It is a balanced approach, opening up as much of the countryside as we safely can."

More than half the county's footpaths are now open, including major parts of the Ridgeway National Trail and sections of the Thames Path.

Mr Wheal said: "Some of the paths will remain closed for the time being because there is still a risk from foot and mouth in some areas and we are very mindful of that."