Road protesters lose 100 trees in one fell swoop

Dawn raid briefly catches protesters on the hop. Danny Penman reports
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The Independent Online
The battle for Pollok Free State raged on yesterday as two squads of lumberjacks cut down more than 100 trees on the route of the M77 in Glasgow.

Under cover of early-morning darkness the lumberjacks moved into two unguarded stretches of woodland. Campaigners keeping watch on Potterton woods and Hagg's Castle raised the alarm too late to drive away the workers. After half an hour the lumberjacks retreated, before protesters could arrive in force. After the loss of the trees the residents of Pollok Free State and four other camps along the route concentrated on repelling construction workers at defensible enclaves. Overnight other activists arrived at the camp from Glasgow and around Britain.

Pollok Free State was set up in August and declared "independence'' from the UK and issued "passports''. It developed out of a dispute that began in 1992 when Strathclyde Regional Council began excavations for the M77.

Because of the length of the motorway route - about four and a half miles - members of the Free State are tree-spiking on a large scale throughout woods along the route. This involves driving six-inch nails deep into the trunks.

If a lumberjack should catch a chain-saw blade on a nail it would snap and could cause serious injuries. All such trees are marked with a large `S'. Spiked trees cannot be felled and have to be removed by hydraulic diggers, a far lengthier process.

Security guards at Pollok continued to defect yesterday, with another two quitting over the evictions and clashes. On Tuesday more than 20 left during the evictions. A lumberjack was also reported to have refused to clear trees.

Local children have also been backing the campaign. Karen McLeod, 14, with a dozen friends, left school for the day. "We make swings in the trees and now they're trying to build a road over them. It's not fair. We have to stop them."

Children from Bellarmine Secondary School are credited with stopping tree-felling on Tuesday. More than 100 left school and stormed into the Pollok Free State. Workers were forced to stop as the children ran around and clambered on machinery.

The residents of Pollok Free State pressed on yesterday with the fortification of their encampment. Piles of wood, planks, plastic sheeting and ropes lay ready to repair damage to any of the eight tree-houses and platforms in the area.Trees are being linked by rope to enable activists to scramble through the treetops when the main assault begins. Wimpey, the company in charge of the project, is using squads of mobile tree-fellers to counter the protesters. It seems intent on averting confrontation and is concentrating on guerrilla tactics. But the activists are equally mobile in what is starting to be a war of attrition.

Campaigners also protested yesterday at Strathclyde Regional Council headquarters. They chained a car to the steps, clambered on their vehicles and smashed them up in protest against "car culture". When police arrived they dumped sawdust on the steps of the office, unchained their car and left.

Life, page 23