Britain's High Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal from a community of Irish Travelers to prevent their eviction from an illegal site where they have lived for a decade.
The decision by Justice Duncan Ouseley clears the way for bailiffs to begin clearing the contested Dale Farm site, 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of London.
Ouseley said that the Travelers had waited too long to challenge the eviction.
"The conclusion has been reached time and again that this is just the wrong site for travelers," Ouseley told the court, adding that it is up to residents to leave voluntarily. "If the removal becomes forcible it would be because of decisions made by the residents not to comply."
The eviction battle has dragged on for years and provoked concern from the United Nations.
The local authority says it's a simple planning issue _ the 86 families lack permission to pitch homes on the land. The Travelers, a traditionally nomadic group similar to, but ethnically distinct from, Gypsy or Roma people, call it ethnic cleansing _ the latest chapter in a centuries-old story of mistrust between nomads and British society.
There are estimated to be between 15,000 and 30,000 Irish Travelers in Britain, where they are recognized as a distinct ethnic minority by the government.
Traveler evictions are relatively common across Britain _ but few are as large, or as high-profile, as that at Dale Farm. Oscar-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave has come to the community's support, and the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged authorities "to find a peaceful and appropriate solution" to the crisis.
The conflict over the settlement has raged since 2001, when Travelers bought and settled on a former scrapyard next to a legal Travelers' site. The local authority waged a long legal battle to remove them.
Tony Ball, leader of the local authority Basildon Council, welcomed the court's decision and urged Travelers to comply with the judge's ruling and leave Dale Farm in a peaceful manner.
"The residents of the illegal settlement at Dale Farm have now had their day in court," he said. "Having engaged with the legal system they must now abide by the law."
Ball said it was too soon to say when exactly the site clearance will begin, explaining that it will depend on how quickly necessary resources can be moved into place to ensure a safe process.
Protesters chained themselves to the gates of the settlement in images broadcast worldwide as the eviction battle reached a head last month when bailiffs prepared to enter the site and enforce the eviction order.
The Travelers won a last minute reprieve when the High Court issued a temporary injunction against forced removals of structures from the site.
After Wednesday's ruling Basildon Council, the local authority, said it would not begin evictions before Monday.
Candy Sheridan of the Gypsy Council said the travelers would seek permission to appeal, though it was unclear whether it would be granted.
Cassandra Vinograd contributed to this report.