Battle of the beech gets a bit trunk and disorderly

As the sun rose in Irton yesterday morning a deathly calm fell over the picturesque North Yorkshire village, as one by one residents gathered to say goodbye to a 100-year-old landmark.

But as the axe was about to fall, a round of applause broke through the gloomy silence as one Scarborough resident decided to take a stand by tying himself to the beech tree’s ageing trunk.

Identifying himself simply as “Snoz”, the protester shouted down to the growing crowd below: “I will do whatever it takes to stop it being cut down. I’m prepared to stay up here for days.”

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It is the latest dramatic twist in a five-year battle which has cost the taxpayers £250,000 and has resulted in a bitter dispute between two councils.

At the root of the battle is the historic tree that towers above Main Street, which has sparked a long-running feud between campaigning residents and the owners of a nearby property who have been battling to get it chopped down on safety grounds, amid fears over damage to drains and a wall.

Campaigners, however, who launched a petition to save it, have maintained the loss of the healthy tree will have a devastating effect on the village’s environment.

Yesterday contractors moved in to fell the beech following an order from a county court judge, who branded it a public nuisance.

The argument went to court following an attempt by North Yorkshire County Council to have the tree felled when Scarborough Council refused to remove a Tree Preservation Order, claiming its loss would “result in serious harm to the character of the village”.

The saga has resulted in the county council being hit with a £250,000 legal bill and the battle is set to rumble on, with the authority now fighting to recoup some of the costs from the borough council.

On Monday around 30 devastated residents gathered around the tree and prepared to say goodbye at a special blessing, led by the Rev Laura McWilliams of St Martin’s Church, Seamer.

As they reluctantly began to accept defeat, nothing could have prepared them for yesterday’s events.

At around 9.30am Main Street was closed as contractors prepared to carry out the felling. A group of villagers had already gathered to stage a peaceful protest, with some arriving as early as 5.30am.

But plans for the protest were abandoned when “Snoz” decided to take up residency in the tree.

Speaking to the Yorkshire Post from the lofty heights of the beech, the 36-year-old protester, Mark Snow, from Scarborough, said: “We just felt like we had to do something. I am a self-employed carpenter and I have an affinity with wood. The tree is a lot older than the house that is built next to it. If I was to buy a house I would check if there was a tree near it. I understand the house hasn’t got a Tree Preservation Order on it.”

As the day unfolded, all the contractors could do was sit and wait, as police attempted to coax Mr Snow down.

Shouting up through the branches, Sgt Akram Ullah, from Scarborough Police, said: “We appreciate what’s happened regarding the tree and we know there’s a lot of people that aren’t happy about the order given by the courts to have it felled. We are asking if you would like to come down now.”

Refusing to move, Mr Snow replied: “As soon as I come down, the tree comes down. On behalf of the people who run North Yorkshire County Council, I’m staying up here.” As the crowd cheered, the contractors had no choice but to leave.

David Parker, who has been leading the campaign to save the tree, said: “Some really nice supporters have turned up from further afield this morning without any of us knowing and have backed us in our case.

“If the worst come to the worst and the tree is cut down, then the village has to unite and move on. But one good thing to come out of this is it’s brought harmony to the village.”

A county council spokesman was unable to say whether the authority was seeking an injunction to remove Mr Snow. “We continue to work closely with the police to carry out the requirements of the court order to remove the tree.”

Police remained at the scene last night as villagers passed up fish and chips and warm clothing to Mr Snow.

A North Yorkshire Police police spokesman said: “Officers are at the scene of the tree protest to ensure that it remains peaceful and lawful, to prevent disruption to the lives of local people and businesses and to provide a reassuring presence for village residents.”

The owners of the nearby property refused to comment.

Poignant eulogy for an old friend

A resident of Irton for 20 years, Shirley Marshall was one of the first villagers to arrive at the scene of the felling at 5.30am yesterday.

Devastated at the thought of losing the tree, she helped to organise Monday’s blessing and wrote a eulogy for the historic beech.

“It means such a lot to all of us, it’s a living creature.

“Any last ditch attempt is worth it to save something that we really love.

“If this tree goes I would consider leaving the village as well.”

Part of A Eulogy for our Beech Tree is printed below.

I have come to the end of the road

The sun will set for me

I want to thank my friends who have fought relentlessly

My branches offered shade and room for birds to nest

But despite a preservation order, I am doomed to rest

The heart of our village I have been for many a long year

I have a soul, I’m well and strong

And this is where I should belong.