A crowd of protesters held up a busy road to burn an effigy of John Prescott in defiance of plans to build on ancient woodland.

People came from as far as Portsmouth for the rally in Titnore Lane, Durrington, near Worthing.

Earlier 60 adults and children gathered in Northbrook Park, Romany Road, to hear speeches against felling more than 200 trees to build 850 homes.

The group then marched down Titnore Lane carrying banners with slogans such as "Hands off our fields and woods", "Think again Two Jags" and "Ancient woodland is irreplaceable".

They stopped in the middle of the road and held up traffic travelling in both directions while they burned the Prescott dummy.

Police and firefighters arrived shortly afterwards to disperse the crowd and put out the flames.

The event was filmed by a crew from ITVs Tonight With Trevor McDonald and will be aired at the end of September or beginning of October.

The demonstration was to show anger at the Office of the Deputy Prime Ministers (ODPM) decision not to hold a public inquiry about the issue.

Outline planning permission has been approved by Worthing Borough Council despite opposition from residents. The housing would cover 99 acres east of Titnore Lane and north of Fulbeck Avenue.

The ODPM informed the protesters by letter that the application was not of sufficient national importance for a public inquiry.

Dr Tony Whitbread, of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, said: "Under the SouthEast Plan, 30,000 houses per year are going to be built in the South East.

"We have a finite supply of ancient woodland. It only covers one per cent of Britain. The Governments place is to preserve and enhance it."

Chris Hare, former vice chairman of planning at West Sussex County Council, said: "West Sussex was once a fairly unpopulated rural county. In a short space of time it has become overdeveloped and overpopulated."

David Sumner, chairman of Worthing Society: "A lot of people feel frustrated and impotent."

Wendy Ross, a Ferring Parish Councillor, pond warden and tree warden, said: "There are great crested newts in the area and they are highly protected. Like a lot of people I am horrified at the idea of all these oaks coming down. They are certainly hundreds of years old, they may be more."

David Sawer, chairman of The Forum of Arun District Amenities Group, said: "West Sussex County Council has made up its mind (but) we must reverse this decision. We have got to get this changed."

John Hughes, of campaigning group Protect Our Woodland and a Durrington resident, said: "We are determined to have a corridor of green from the Downs to the sea."

Mr Hughes said people from all over the world, including Finland and Antartica, had visited the protest web site www. protectourwoodland. fsnet. co. uk to add their support.

A police spokesman said the protest was an illegal demonstration and an obstruction to the highway and would be investigated.