The birds have gone silent: how a fracking company is changing my village

Posted by Kathryn McWhirter - 8 August 2013 at 1:08pm - Comments
Anti-fracking protester at Balcombe drilling site
All rights reserved. Credit: Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace
Balcombe is surrounded by woodland which could be affected by drilling and fracking

I’m just back from the local anti-fracking camp outside Balcombe in Sussex, where Cuadrilla workers are noisily drilling their oil well despite not having the necessary permits and huge local opposition. Many hugs from the campers and villagers down there, and frankly too many Balcombe courgettes: I’ve brought mine back home due to lack of demand.

I also had to bring back my offer of showers – everyone at the camp had already showered at other residents’ houses in Balcombe and Cuckfield (the village on the other side of the drilling site).

We are hugely grateful for the brave people from elsewhere who are helping us. Balcombe people are about as likely as Jane Austen to superglue ourselves to the Cuadrilla gate.

Our jaws dropped when this week Balcombe residents received a letter of apology from our county council. Not for the tankers, noise, disruption and potential pollution the village is facing from the drilling site, but for "the disruption caused by the protesters".

How insensitive. How wrong.

We’ve tried our best to use all the formal processes to stop this awful project and it hasn't worked. The Environment Agency swept aside our representations. Our councillors, council officers and MPs are not protecting us. We hope our protests will make them listen and act.

The news that the Reclaim the Power climate camp switching venue to Balcombe is very good. The more the merrier, and it’s as much their business as ours.

Fracking is coming to two-thirds of England if the government and the oil and gas industry get their way, and it’s in the interest of the whole country to make sure fracking does not get a foothold in Balcombe, or a foot in the door to the UK.

We here in Balcombe will welcome all legal activities by people who come to help us.

It’s quiet down there the last two days. Tuesday saw one arrest under the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act – stopping people getting on with their work. But today the focus is an all-day “knit-in” (crocheting also encouraged!).

The Super Whip was down again yesterday. No, not the police (but what an eye-opener the violent police action so far has been to law-abiding local residents like us!). I mean the ice cream van, with a notice in its window: "Super Whip against fracking". Thank you, Super Whip.

But the birds have gone since Cuadrilla started drilling, which is a huge change. Much of Balcombe is forest, and there’s ancient woodland adjoining the site. Our dawn chorus is amazing. One camper told me the chorus has been absent these last few mornings.

No doubt the bats will soon have moved house too. West Sussex failed to demand a bat survey for the original planning permission, although the permission mentioned the bats.

Thankfully, for the planning extension in September, the council has decided one is required. Stay around bats. We need you.

Kathryn lives in Balcombe and is part of the No Fracking In Balcombe Society

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