Bypass for first cuckoos of spring

The Independent March 5 1996

Clare Garner

Thirty protesters were arrested and a security guard taken to hospital in a third day of eviction battles on the route of the Newbury bypass evictions yesterday, as it was announced that tree-felling would not be halted when the first cuckoos are born later this month.

Campaigners and police were locked in hand-to-hand fighting when mounted police and bailiffs with riot shields resumed their efforts to pluck the treetop protesters from their camps.

More than 100 protesters, including pensioners and local residents, repeatedly sat in front of bulldozers and mechanical cranes as they made their way down a muddy slope, but several hundred police and security guards manoeuvred the machines into position at the base of the trees.

Some protesters complained of brutal police tactics, allegedly including bending thumbs and fingers backwards and applying pressure to sensitive points around the head.

A security guard in his early 20s was taken to hospital with a back injury after he was repeatedly kicked and punched as he tried to surround a tree earmarked for felling. One protester crashed 15 feet to the ground after contractors chopped down a small tree while he was still in the branches. He was gashed across the forehead but refused to give up his place amongst his colleagues.

The protesters were angered by what they saw as the Highways Agency's disregard for nesting birds. It was previously thought that clearance work would be put on hold until cuckoos and other birds had built their nests and raised their young, but the Agency said it was happy to carry on into April, provided none of the trees or bushes they cut down contain nests.

A Highways Agency spokesman said: «We have various wildlife patrols who check the whole of the habitat to check there is no wildlife in the area that shouldn't be there. As of 31 March, in addition to our regular patrols, we have been advised by English Nature that we should have experts in residence on call 24 hours a day, just to do literally an inch-by-inch search to make sure there are no nesting birds.

A spokesman for Friends of the Earth said: «If they are felling trees around birds' nests that is bound to disturb the birds. Birds are very nervous when they are nesting and I can see eggs and young being abandoned as chainsaw gangs move in.»

Now the protesters, who have been desperately trying to delay the work and make it extend into the «banned» period, are trying a last-ditch attempt to outwit the contractors. «We are going to plant nesting boxes in the trees. We are appealing to our feathered friends to get to Newbury as quickly as possible and get nesting.»