A company which bulldozed acres of woodland was entitled to on land it owned, a council has ruled.
Last month the land was cleared at Orchard Ponds, near Bristol, which protesters said was a "wildlife refuge and community forest".
They argued Severnside Distribution Land had breached a 1995 planning deal.
South Gloucestershire Council ruled SDL was entitled to manage land it owned but it must apply for planning permission to develop it.
SDL initially agreed to pause the work but it resumed after the council confirmed it could not legally stop it.
During the protest residents and councillors, who say the company wants to use the land to build warehouses, joined forces to stop a bulldozer.
Severn Beach resident Peter Tyzack alleged the company had cleared the land in breach of a 1995 planning agreement, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
Mr Tyzack, who is also a parish councillor, was among the dozen or so people who stood in the way of contractors.
Fellow parish councillor Michael Pruett said he was "very saddened at the destruction of the trees, hedgerows, ancient orchard and all the interlinked ecology of the area".
SDL is yet to comment.
Their protest sparked an investigation by the council over the landowner's rights to clear and develop the land.
The council found there were two sets of planning permission for the land at Orchard Ponds, one from 1957 and one from 1995.
"The legal team has since concluded that the landowner can manage the land but must apply for planning consent to develop it," the council spokesman added.
The land, previously a large orchard at Grove Farm, is on Ableton Lane near the A403.
The company says it is simply "managing growth" which it is permitted to do, South Gloucestershire Council said.