Protesters win another battle

The Guardian March 21 1996

John Vidal watches the largest platform machine in Europe succumb to a tree

SCOUSE Mick is in defiant voice, bellowing over the wasted Berkshire landscape from 130ft up in the top platform of the Corsican Pine, a symbol of Newbury defiance and the tallest tree on the bypass route.

It is a damp, misty day and there are already 50 police vans, climbers and the first busload of security guards surrounding Reddings Copse. Above, rubber gloves are being turned into paint bombs; shredded rope to foil chainsaws is being passed up and down the pine. Howie drums, Costas makes coffee, and Heather from Glasgow has met a friend she last saw a year ago in a tree.

A CB radio crackles into life: «The mother of cherry pickers and three little ones are heading your way, pine.» In half an hour something between a giant stick insect and a siege tower is digging in below the tree.

The largest platform machine in Europe rises a third of its height to just below the pine's main treehouse, then effortlessly reaches another 90 feet and twists through 90 degrees, stretching across the pine as if sniffing its prey.

Everywhere there are small dramas. Two scaffolding pyramids with people locked to them have been pulled down in minutes, an iron bath filled with concrete has been smashed, and, 80 feet up on a blue rope walkway Jim is having it out with the crew of a smaller cherry picker.

Two treehouses fall in less than half an hour, their blue plastic and blankets hang in tatters across the stumps of branches.

The mother picker circles. Its platform holds four men. The protesters sling paint, rice, flour, anything at hand. It is pathetic.

Costas parries the chainsaw gang as it comes right to his window. They are coming now from the front and the bottom. The protesters wave their staves. The platform backs off and rises majestically another 60 feet to pluck off the protesters' pennants from the top of the tree. The platform descends. The chainsaw gang is covered in paint.

Meanwhile, a digger driver has excavated deep below one of the oak trees. His machine easily pushes it over.

From above, the tree falls serenely, quietly, and a great bough hits the Mother Picker. The body of the tree twists, three climbers hear the crack, look up and dash for safety. The last man is too late. Nature bites back.

There is a silence. The machines stop. Then the protesters throw every conceivable insult at Under Sheriff Nicholas Blandy, in charge of the eviction, for not protecting his men. Mr Blandy ignores everything. He continues to eat his sandwich.

The injured man lies still, and is covered with protesters' blankets. Half an hour later an ambulance arrives.

The oak tree has done more than hurt one climber. One huge bough has hit the cherry picker's control panel. Work must stop for the day.

The 18 people in the tree light a fire and relax. Below, a machine clears the ground around the pine, preparing for the next round.