Protesters and police clashed in southeastern Italy as contractors were preparing uproot up to 10,000 olive trees to make way for the controversial Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), which is set to move gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.

The confrontation happened in early July as environmental activists, who had been camping out since March, attempted to prevent the last 42 of the 200 ancient olive trees in Puglia from being removed, the Olive Oil Times wrote on 12 July.

The 42 trees were uprooted in April and had been placed in containers to await further removal.

Police were called to the scene late at night after the protesters blocked a road and slashed the tyres of two trucks, The Local Italia reported.

Lisa Givert, TAP head of communication, said the company was unable to move the uprooted trees to a nursery before early July due to the protestors, but the company had done “everything in its power” to ensure the trees remained healthy.

“TAP has removed the first set of olive trees as planned, the schedule remains and TAP continues to work towards being ready to deliver the first gas from the Shah Deniz gas field in Azerbaijan in 2020,” she told Olive Oil Times.

The TAP project has been delayed already by a year due to strong local opposition, which escalated in March with activists throwing stones and bottles at armed police.

Both the activists and local authorities are resisting the plans to uproot a massive number of olive trees, some of them ancient and classified as “monumental”, from the way of the US$4.5bn gas pipeline.

With the first phase of the project now complete, TAP was moving to the second part of the construction which would involve the removal of another 2,000 olive trees from the 8km strip along the pipeline.

Olive trees cannot be uprooted during their growth spurt period, lasting from the start of May to the end of November, but trees that had already been uprooted could be freely moved.

Givert said TAP had by now removed 210 trees and moved them to a nursery, where they would be well taken care of until they could be replanted at their original location.

“The olive trees in the nursery are looked after in line with the best agricultural practices, as per the Olive Trees Management Plan, approved by the Apulia Region. Nets protect the trees from the Xylella bacteria and irrigation channels have been built,” she said.

However, environmentalist and the local authorities feared that moving the trees might expose them to the bacteria, which ravaged thousands of Puglia’s olive trees in 2015. Diseased trees must be destroyed.

Michele Emiliano, Puglia’s governor, called removing the trees “illegal” and told the Telegraph back in March that the Italian government had proven incapable of listening to local concerns.

Additionally, mayor Marco Poti said that TAP had agreed to suspend activities during Puglia’s busiest tourism season between June and September.

TAP defended the removal of the trees at this time as necessary for safeguarding their wellbeing, according to Olive Oil Times.

The Italian government has branded the TAP project as “strategic” for Italy, which means that all local objections would be overruled.

The 3,500km long pipeline forms the final section of the Southern Gas Corridor that is projected to transport gas from Asia to Europe in order to reduce EU’s dependency on Russian fuel.