Balcombe fracking protesters meet villagers

Villagers from Balcombe march to visit the protest site

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Villagers from an area in West Sussex where protests have been taking place against oil exploration have walked to meet the campaigners.

The demonstration in Balcombe is now in its 10th day but energy firm Cuadrilla began drilling at the site on Friday after being held up by the protests.

Campaigners fear the test drilling could lead to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

More than 100 Balcombe residents walked from the village to the protest site.

Helen Savage said: "Local villagers wanted to meet the protesters.

'Poisonous process'

"Overwhelmingly we are against fracking and it is important to get our views across.

"We want our land to remain frack-free."

Analysis

It was billed not as a protest march but as a weekend stroll.

One of the villagers said that Balcombe was typically middle England. They even sang their own version of 'Jerusalem' as they walked down to the protest site.

One villager joked that all that was missing was the cream and scones.

There are some voices raised against the semi-professional protesters on their doorstep. But the villagers who marched today say 85% of Balcombe's population of roughly 2,000 are against fracking - even though the drilling at the moment is conventional and exploratory.

Most of them say they are not "Nimbys" - they say there's no justification for fracking anywhere in the UK.

There have been no arrests on the site so far on Saturday, and the BBC's Andy Moore described the mood on site as "good natured".

Charles Metcalfe, a TV wine expert who lives in the village, has formed the No Fracking in Balcombe Society with his wife.

He said: "As far as I'm concerned, I'm a Sussex resident who thinks this is a poisonous process which will do us a lot of harm and not a lot of financial good."

A survey carried out by No Fibs claimed 85% of local people were opposed to Cuadrilla's operation in the village.

Katy Dunne, who lives in Balcombe and organised the survey, said: "We spoke to every household in the village and the overwhelming majority of people who live in Balcombe don't want fracking.

"We've done petitions, over 800 of us responded to the Environment Agency's consultation, the parish council has come out against and now we can say with confidence that the residents don't want it.

'Violation of geology'

"We've been backed into a corner and we now feel we have no option but to take matters into own own hands and protect our village."

Vanessa Vine, from Frack Free Sussex, said any future fracking would be "a violation of our geology that could threaten our water, fresh air and our children".

Protester at the test drilling site near Balcombe on Friday On Thursday the site entrance was blocked by a fire engine

Friends of the Earth spokeswoman Brenda Pollack said: "It threatens their environment and quality of life and will mean more climate-changing emissions are pumped into the atmosphere.

"And there's plenty of evidence that it won't lead to cheaper fuel bills."

On Friday, two protesters were arrested on suspicion of assaulting police.

Sussex Police said an officer was punched and kicked by a woman who claimed she was 14, but turned out to be a 19-year-old from Portsmouth.

A 22-year-old man from Bexhill was also arrested after a police officer was hit in the face with a placard, officers said.

Six people were arrested on Thursday after protesters blocked the site entrance with an antique fire engine.

More than 30 people have been arrested since last Friday, mainly on suspicion of obstructing deliveries, including the daughter of Kinks star Ray Davies and Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Hynde.

The 30-year-old glued herself to her boyfriend, veteran environmental activist Simon "Sitting Bull" Medhurst, 55, to form a "human lock" at the site entrance on Wednesday.

Cuadrilla said drilling started at 11:15 BST on Friday. Spokesman Matt Lambert said: "We have had a significant amount of disruption from protesters and the police have been dealing with that in the proper way.

"They have a perfect right to make their point of view known."

The firm has said it would need fresh permission to carry out fracking.

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