Barking mad? Not me, says the arboreal answer to Swampy

Jonathan Brown meets the protester who has risen to the challenge of saving a tree

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There has been little of note to draw the world's attention to Irton since the village was founded by Irish immigrants on farmland just outside Scarborough 500 years ago.

Little, that is, until Tuesday morning when Mark Snow pulled up in his van determined to do something to save a century-old beech tree that a county court judge has ordered to be felled because its roots were troubling the foundations of a boundary wall.

In what appears to be a spur-of-the- moment decision, the self-employed carpenter told two community police officers whose duty was to ensure the contractors' chainsaws could do their work unhindered that he was there to inspect the wildlife – and shimmied up the trunk.

Once up the tree, he tied himself to its branches and there – three days and three chilly nights later – he remains. Armed with little more than a woolly hat, brown petrol can to store bodily fluids and an iron will, Mr Snow (Snoz to his friends) has staged a one-man protest that has catapulted Irton into the national spotlight.

The 36-year-old's act of arboreal resistance has captured the public's imagination, with supporters driving from all over Yorkshire to catch a glimpse of him and honk their horns in support. Villagers have provided him with fish and chips, cups of tea and sandwiches. Reporters have borrowed cherry pickers to interview him.

Only the bats with whom he now resides appeared to be causing him any problems, until the unwelcome arrival of council officials yesterday afternoon. They served him with a notice of injunction that they winched up to him in a paper bag. It warned that unless he vacated the tree he could be fined or jailed for contempt by the High Court.

Speaking to The Independent, which borrowed a ladder to reach him, Mr Snow insisted that he was not Swampy Mark Two but said he had no plans to leave until the 55ft tree is safe. "I'll be here as long as it takes until there is some movement in saving the tree," he said. Although he was not born in Irton, he has friends here and grew up near by.

He said: "The first night was a bit tricky but it wasn't that bad and ever since it has been easier and easier. It's not really cold at night.

"The villagers bring me hot water bottles and blankets and I had a sleeping bag in the van," he said.

The tree battle is Mr Snow's first protest. Until now he says he has been too busy working and is conscious that he is losing money at the moment.

He is a reluctant eco-activist. "I don't consider myself to be any fonder of nature than anyone else who lives around here," he said.

"When I get down I will probably shave my beard off so that nobody recognises me. The last thing I want is any fame and I don't want to be associated with Swampy.

"I am not a crusty. I am normally a very smartly dressed person."

The furore over the beech, which stands commandingly at the entrance to the village, has been bubbling away for the past five years since a family moved into the cottage beside it.

On Sunday, in an attempt to heal the rifts that have opened up, a service of thanksgiving was held and villagers steeled themselves to bid adieu to the old beech, perhaps for the last time. But they didn't bargain for this.

David Parker, 70, who has lived in Irton for 25 years, is one of a group of people staging a 24-hour vigil at the foot of the tree. He believes there is nothing inevitable about its demise – unlike 500 others that he says have been felled in the area in recent years for such trivial reasons as falling conkers or protruding branches.

"Until a chainsaw blade hits that tree I will not be convinced it is coming down. We are here until the very end," he said.

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