Officers formed a cordon around a group of condemned trees as tree surgeons dressed in bright yellow fluorescent jackets and orange trousers began hacking away.
The arrests follow a bitter legal battle between council chiefs and some residents in Sheffield, South York, over the felling of trees in the city.
Residents in the leafy Endcliffe suburb were woken around 5am this morning (Thursday) to the sound of chain saws outside their homes.
Police arrested three protesters who tried to stop the dawn felling going ahead.
Cars, on Rustlings Road, where house prices range from £300,000 to £550,000, were towed away and police vans moved in to stop any protesters interfering with the tree surgeons.
It is claimed neither Sheffield City Council nor contractor Amey, who is carrying out the felling work, told residents before starting chopping down the trees.
Jean-March Michel, who has a lime tree earmarked for felling outside his house, said: “We had no idea this was happening today – the first we knew about it was when we heard noises at around 4.45am and the sound of chain saws at 5.15am.
“People have been outside objecting and arrests have been made. One person was wrestled to the ground.
“Cars have been towed away and there are vans full of police officers here when we looked outside.”
His wife, Pia, said: “The tree outside our house is a beautiful, healthy tree and the reason they have given for felling it is that there is some disruption to the pavement – well why don’t they just repair the pavement?
“The way they have gone about this in the middle of the night is underhand.
“The council has £1.2 billion to repair the city’s roads yet it has gone into the tree felling budget. This is so sad to see.”
More than 3,000 trees have been cut down and replaced under the controversial scheme since 2012.
Campaigners failed in a High Court bid in May to block the ‘Streets Ahead’ project, arguing Sheffield City Council had failed to be properly consulted about the scheme.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Sheffield Hallam MP, Nick Clegg, called the felling scheme a “national scandal”, but the council said the word if necessary for managing the city’s 36,000 for future generations.
Council bosses say only trees dying or diseased or posing a danger to the public are listed for fell.
Speaking today, Nick Clegg MP said: “Whether you think the trees need to come down or not, the way the Council have acted is inexcusable.
“Sheffield’s Labour leaders have shown that they willing to go to any lengths in their tree felling mission against the wishes of the community, using disproportionate and underhand tactics to get their own way.
“Relationships between residents and the Council are already strained over this issue and this will only inflame tensions further.”Cllr Bryan Lodge, Cabinet Member for the Environment at Sheffield City Council, said: “For more than a year we have worked tirelessly with Amey and the local community to find the right solution for Rustlings Road.
“We have written to every home, brought in a new survey process for the entire city and set up an Independent Tree Panel. Our approach has been assessed at the High Court on three occasions.
“We have made a final decision to increase the number of trees on Rustlings Road by almost 30%. We need to replace eight out of the 30 existing trees, but we will plant 17, which means the road is gaining an extra nine trees.
“We understand that this will be a difficult day for the tree campaigners, but this work is absolutely essential to ensure that Sheffield has healthy street trees for future generations.
“This isn’t usually needed but in this case it was considered the best option for the safety of the public, protestors and the workers.
“I understand there are strong emotions about this but have to stand by the decision to do this vital maintenance work.
“We’ve got 36,000 street trees in Sheffield and this programme means that in years to come we’ll have even more.”
A South Yorkshire police spokesperson said: “Twelve officers have provided assistance on Rustlings Road this morning at the request of the council.
“We have a small presence to ensure the safety oflocal residents and contractors whilst the work is carried out.
“Three peoplehave been arrested on suspicion of preventing lawful work under Section 241 ofthe Trade Union and Relation Act 1992.”