As the fuel protest fizzles out retailers have been left counting the cost of the panic-buying which saw nearly a week’s worth of fuel sold in one day.

Jonathan James, who runs three forecourts in Cambridgeshire, said: it had been absolutely manic for two days. “We’ve sold three times as much fuel as normal and were limiting people to £15. We had the police here on and off directing traffic and I brought in two extra cashiers to help with marshalling and making sure everybody’s safe.”

“It was busy from the moment we opened on Tuesday. Most of Ely was dry – we were one of the only sites still going.”

Jonathan said he had been “very well-prepared” and had started filling his tanks from last Thursday.

As well as limiting motorists to £15 worth of fuel, he set aside 3,000 litres of unleaded and 3,000 litres of diesel for the emergency services.

However, the increase in fuel trade as had an adverse impact on other areas of his business: “Our fuel sales are up, but shop sales are flat. People just want to fill up and go – they’re not interested in the shop at the moment and the car wash is redundant.”

Jonathan said that most drivers had been good humoured and well behaved. He’s been helping to keep everyone in good spirits by giving out free sweets and drinks as they queue. The average wait was around 45 minutes.

Paul Sykes, managing director of Shaw Petroleum, which operates five forecourts in the Yorkshire area, also reported fuel sales three time higher than normal and said he had been trying to make the most of a bad situation.

“The public has just gone mad”, he said. “We don’t need a fuel protest because the public are doing it for them. I don’t actually think the fuel protests themselves will cause as much of a problem as the public.”

At one of his sites Paul said a load had arrived at 9pm and by 9am the following morning there was just two hours of fuel left.

“We closed that site and rang round our account customers to let them know that we only had two hours of fuel left. We made sure we looked after them first,” he said.

Paul said his other sites were “coping well”, although he added that it would be a good idea to introduce a minimum spend, as panic-buyers were putting in “silly amounts” of just £3-£4.

Like other traders, Paul said his shop businesses were experiencing a downturn in trade. “If there are queues then people don’t want to hold them up so they rush through and the shop sales suffer,” he said.

Robert Fraser, who runs five forecourts across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Wiltshire, said that the public and some sections of the media had created much of the problem by misunderstanding the nature of the protest.

“Andrew Spence (from the Fuel Lobby) said it wouldl only be a presence at the refineries. To say it is a blockade is wrong. People don’t seem to understand,” he said.

Robert said his sites had been “constantly busy until well past midnight”, with customers queuing off-site. “We’ve been doing well and the delivery situation so far – touch wood - has been good,” he said. “We’ve been doing all we can do.”

Robert said his shops had been “a bit quieter” but always attracted a lot of non-fuel customers. “What can put them off is if they can’t park because of queues. If you’ve got off-site parking it’s easier,” he said.

David Charman of Parkfoot Garages in Kent said he had been selling two to three times as much fuel as normal but staff were “coping really well”.

“It’s difficult for staff,” he said. “It puts a lot of pressure on them, especially night managers.”

Meanwhile Garage Watch, the trade organisation representing over 6,000 independent petrol forecourts of the circa 10,000 remaining forecourts across the UK, has written to Chancellor Gordon Brown, urging him to seriously consider lowering the duty on fuel to bring it down to a more manageable 80-pence per litre maximum.

“In the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the United States, fuel prices have reached record highs and in many places, topping the £1-per litre barrier. This has caused huge financial burden for our members across the UK as pumps and roadside price signs were never designed to cope with such extortionate prices for fuel,” said Bradshaw.

“There is a very real risk of us returning to the unrest of the blockades of 2000, and we feel that now is the time for the Chancellor to lessen the burden on the motorist and focus his need for funding from a different source other than from the easy target of fuel.

“Fuel cannot be seen as a luxury item, it is a necessity, particularly in rural areas where large distances are often travelled as people go about their legitimate daily business. For too long now, the Government has hidden behind the excuse of the effect on the environment when raising fuel duty at the time of the budget.”