THEY have campaigned for 16 years and spent £80,000 of their own money in a bid to protect their environment.

Now hundreds of villagers fighting plans to turn a Hampshire farm into a giant gravel pit have finally thrown in the towel and conceded defeat.

It follows the approval of plans to extract more than 810,000 tonnes of sand and gravel from Downton Manor Farm in New Milton.

A Governmentappointed planning inspector gave it the goahead in October in a move that angered people living near the huge site.

They warned that a quiet corner of the New Forest would be blighted by noise, dust and extra traffic as a result of the decision.

But Hampshire County Council, which backed the objectors, has been advised that there are no legal grounds for challenging the inspector’s decision.

Downton and Milford Against Gravel Extraction (Damage) has also been forced to admit defeat.

Residents and businesses have fought the proposal since it was first put forward by New Milton Sand and Ballast (NMSB) in the early 1990s and have spent nearly £80,000 on legal representation at public inquiries.

The county council rejected the scheme and its decision was upheld after an eight-day public inquiry in 2007.

However, NMSB lodged an appeal with the High Court.

Earlier this year the Government quashed the original ruling and ordered the inquiry to be reopened.

Campaigners were stunned when the company was subsequently given permission to proceed with its plans.

Damage chairman Jim Sey said: “I’m deeply disappointed in the system, which allows people to come back time and again until they get the result they want.”

However, NMSB said the scheme would help the environment by eliminating the need to truck 100,000 tonnes of limestone from Somerset every year.

In a statement the company added: “Local gravel will be worked by a long-standing, professional, familyowned business with an excellent track record in community involvement.

“We intend to set up a community liaison committee to make sure local people have a say in how the site is worked.”