Treetop party as machine army circles

The Guardian March 7 1996

John Vidal, above, who recently went undercover as a Newbury bypass security guard, now joins protesters in defences 10ft above the ground.

THE CB radio crackles into life at 6am.

«What's coming?» -- «Yellow coats.»

«How many?» -- «Hundreds.»

«Roger, Charlie, I think we have a hit.»

In the dawn half-light, 40 or so Reddings Copse protesters woop. «I've been waiting for this five months,» says Howie and then shouts into the morning: «Come and get us, if you think you're tall enough.»

Eight coach-loads of security guards are running across the fields. The protesters greet them with their war cry of «Aruga», and drums begin beating between the trees.

Howie, Greg, Bob, Jim, Danny, Blue, Alex, Hughie and a dozen others have slept for three hours but are now working feverishly to further defend the Pine. It is the tallest and straightest tree on the Newbury bypass route, 150ft high with tree houses at 100 and 130 feet.

At the very tip, a ladder reaches over everything with a defiant flag. From here all Berkshire can be seen, as can the full length of the bypass route -- already a 100-yard wide, nine mile long trail of mud and broken trees.

Within 15 minutes, The Pine and four 90ft oak trees, each with a house, are surrounded. There are protest drums and the adrenalin is soaring. Everyone will be arrested, many possibly jailed.

People clamber out of the houses to cling to branches and broadcast credos to the State below: «This money should be spent on education», «We'd rather die like lions than live like you lot».

The Pine's lower tree house is solid enough -- a mix of domestic cosiness with a stove, carpets and kitchen -- and rock-hard road-slowers' tools.

There are bicycles, locks, D clamps, wires (barbed and straight), hooks, padlocks, chains and handcuffs to lock on to the tree when the bailiffs inevitably arrive.

Soon, there is a low distant rumble. With Wagnerian overstatement, 200 more guards are escorting four mechanical diggers through the field. They crash and crush all before them. The last one carries a blazing fire in its bucket. «They've brought their own damn-hell torch,» says Bob.

The machines metaphorically beat their chests, raising their digging arms in mock salute to the protesters. «It's a bloody siege,» says someone from the roof. «It's the bloody State steamrolling everything,» says another.

Enter Balin. He is famous for his 16-day vigil up a tripod on part of the route. He arrives without climbing harness, having free-climbed across four trees and 50 yards of aerial ropeway, beginning his ascent outside the guards' security cordon. «To tell the truth, I was pooping myself,» he says.

He has a black eye and bruising from an eviction two days previously. He talks of pressing charges.

«It's a hell of a pad you've got here.» He helps dress the tree further in wire and recommends smearing margarine on the branches. Then he curls up an half sleeps.

The day wears on. The bailiffs have still not arrived and it becomes clear that the real action is at other camps. Sheriff's officers have arrested 17 protesters and cleared six tree houses at a camp at Bagnor on the northern end of the route. Another campaigner has been held in Reddings Copse.

By mid-afternoon, as the machines gather closer to the base of the tree houses, it dawns on everyone that there will be no evictions from the camp today. There is a mix of relief for the trees and anti-climax.

«Okay, let's party,» says Bob. A guitar is hauled up from the base of the tree and a water container becomes a drum.