A protest by farmers angry at the rising cost of fuel turned into a damp squib yesterday.

Pressure group Farmers For Action (FFA) tried to blockade the Shell oil refinery at Stanlow, Cheshire - the seat of the nationwide protests of September 2000.

Cheshire Constabulary said 20 men in around 15 tractors arrived at the plant, near Ellesmere Port at 5am. Protest organisers claimed there were 30 vehicles.

They were greeted by 30 police officers after the force was alerted to the protest by media inquiries on Sunday night.

The police refused to let them park on the road and instead the farmers spent nearly three hours circling a roundabout more than two miles from the refinery gate.

The protest caused mild congestion and some tanker drivers apparently chose to leave via a different route, but there was no disruption of fuel supplies.

By 8am the farmers agreed to park their vehicles on the roundabout while their leaders met Shell management, in the hope of using the firm to influence the Government. The meeting proved fruitless.

The leaders then met a representative from the Transport and General Workers Union to ask the Shell tanker drivers to refuse to cross the unofficial "picket line". However, the union representative refused to play any part in the action, as it was not an official dispute.

David Handley, of FFA, originally described the action as a "blockade" and promised that numbers would increase throughout the day.