Jeers as historic tree’s date with saw confirmed

A highways chief was met with jeers from a huge crowd as he revealed a 100-year-old beech tree at the root of an 11-day protest was destined for the axe despite villagers’ desperate attempts to save it.

Campaigners’ hopes the tree would be saved were dashed when North Yorkshire highways assistant director Barrie Mason announced the felling would go ahead.

Reading out a statement in front of the tree in Irton, near Scarborough, at 4pm yesterday Mr Mason said anyone who tried to block the felling could face jail.

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This did not deter “Beech Nut”, the latest protester to scale the tree, who remained defiant among its branches as the tree’s fate was revealed. She was cheered by the crowd as Mr Mason left the scene.

The 17-year-old girl from Bridlington, who said she was “privileged” to be in the tree, is the fifth eco-warrior to tie herself to its aging trunk in an attempt to stop the axe from falling.

Mark “Snoz” Snow was the first protester to stage a four-night sit-in after he climbed the beech last Tuesday. Protester Charles “Ledge”, was the next man in the tree, spending four nights among its branches, followed by Paul “Ganty” Ganson, and Rob Simpson who took over the tree-top shift.

Campaigner Richard Harrison said: “We won’t abandon hope for the Irton beech tree until a chainsaw actually touches its trunk.”

A spokesman for North Yorkshire County Council said the tree was likely to be felled next week.

In a statement released yesterday, he said: “The county council recognises that some of the residents of Irton wish to see the tree remain, and that they feel strongly about its removal. The council wishes to emphasise that it has no choice but to comply with the court order.”

It comes as a huge blow to campaigning villagers who have staged a number of last-ditch attempts to save the natural landmark.

Residents battled against the clock on Wednesday to exploit a loophole in an injunction that was served by the High Court this week. Villagers beat a 4pm deadline to serve documents to the court recommending alternative solutions to felling the beech, after they claimed the county council had missed out a report containing vital information on why it should not be chopped down. However, they are still yet to find out if their efforts have been successful.

Mr Harrison said: “We are frustrated by still not being able to ascertain if the High Court judge saw both sides of the evidence around this tree. Neither the High Court nor the county council has confirmed to us what the court actually saw.

“Two excellent reports support our view that the tree can be preserved and the problems can be dealt with by relatively simple engineering but we still do not know if the judge saw them

“We hope the county council will tell us on Monday what was actually presented in the High Court as officers could only read statements and not answer questions yesterday.”

In a further blow, an attempt by campaigners to block the road closure that would need to be put in force in order to fell the tree was thrown out of court by a judge yesterday.

Campaigner David Parker drove to Leeds County Court in the hope of a stay of execution, however his efforts were in vain when the judge allowed the Emergency Road Closure Order to be enforced despite protesters claiming emergency closures should be subject to an eight-week consultation.

The tree is at the centre of a five-year battle which has cost the taxpayers £250,000 and has resulted in a bitter dispute between two councils.

The historic tree that towers above Main Street 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. The argument went to court following an attempt by the 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.