Victory is a lone oak tree

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Protesters against the Newbury bypass were handed a symbolic victory yesterday as a single oak tree along the route of the new road was spared the attentions of a chainsaw.

Instead, this handsome token of Mother Nature's handiwork will enjoy a new lease of life - as part of a picturesque roundabout for motorists to enjoy.

But token it is. Since work officially began along the route on 9 January, around 10,000 trees have been felled along the path of the bulldozers. Only a few trees with nesting birds have been left behind, in accordance with wildlife protection laws.

As the under-Sheriff of Berkshire, Nick Blandy, turned up to hand over the site of the bypass to contractors at a special ceremony yesterday, a crowd of around 100 protesters ambushed the event His Land Rover made several attempts to escape the crowd and he sped off before saying a word.

Despite this humiliation, Mark Clark, a spokesman for the Highways Agency, was defiant. Although the ceremony was ruined, the construction of the road would go ahead as planned, he said.

We are going ahead and we are going to put that road in place as per the schedule we have laid out," he said. "It has been democratically chosen that the bypass is to be built and we are not going to let a relatively small group of people stop that."

The group of people to which he referred was not quite so insignificant, however. It is estim ated that 2,000 protesters have taken part in the demonstrations at the site, either living in the woods or simply spending the odd day wrestling with security officers and lying down in front of bulldozers.

On Tuesday, 17 environmental campaigners had been arrested as the last camps - Tot Hill and Castle Camp - fell to the Sheriff. The passionately fought campaign has seen 768 arrests. Most of the arrests have been for aggravated trespass, or for obstruction of the under-sheriff's staff - at a cost of pounds 2.55m in police time. Security costs have tripled from the original estimate of pounds 500,000 to pounds 1.5m. The forcible evacuation operation came to an end when the last protester - dressed in a pantomime cow costume - left the last of the treehouses