Sherwood Forest ‘should not be fracked’, says RSPB

Major Oak Image copyright PA
Image caption Sherwood Forest has more than 1,000 veteran oak trees including The Major Oak

Sherwood Forest and other protected sites should be ruled out as locations for fracking, according to the RSPB conservation charity.

Chemicals giant Ineos wants to survey part of the Nottinghamshire forest to see if there is potential for fracking.

But the RSPB - which will manage the entire Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve from 2018 - opposes fracking.

Thoresby Estate, which owns the site, has also said it will not agree to any shale gas well heads on its land.

What is fracking and why is it controversial?

The RSPB said: "The RSPB believes protected sites for nature such as Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve, SSSIs and European sites should be ruled out by the government as locations for fracking exploration or operational well-heads.

"The RSPB is looking forward to take on the management of the whole of Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve in spring 2018.

"We are already working hard with our partners to preserve its natural and cultural heritage."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sherwood Forest is famous for its legendary association with Robin Hood
Image caption An unofficial Twitter account for the Major Oak has been encouraging people to join a campaign against the plans

The government has given Ineos licences to explore for shale gas on a million acres of land across the UK.

As part of this, Ineos wants to carry out seismic imaging surveys at Sherwood Forest and other locations.

These surveys are the first step in determining whether there is shale gas in rocks under the surface, and whether it is possible or economical to extract it.

The RSPB does not object to seismic imaging surveys in principle - but said they must be done in a way that does not disturb breeding birds.

Thoresby Estate has also indicated that it will allow seismic surveys to be carried out, but nothing has been agreed with Ineos yet.

RSPB's view on fracking and surveys

Image copyright RSPB
Image caption The RSPB said the seismic surveys must not disturb woodlarks and nightjars present in Sherwood Forest
  • The RSPB said it does not support fracking for shale gas or oil in the UK because "the current regulatory framework does not provide sufficient protection for the natural environment"
  • However, the charity said there is "no sound basis" for objecting to seismic surveys in principle, even in protected areas, "as long as proper safeguards are in place and the survey technology to be employed is acceptable"

The RSPB said: "Our advice to Ineos would be to deploy seismic survey equipment only on existing tracks, well away from any trees.

"We would also strongly recommend the company takes steps to ensure the surveys do not cause any disturbance to breeding birds such as woodlarks and nightjars present in Sherwood Forest, since these are specially protected under UK and European law."

Friends of the Earth launched a campaign and petition to "save" Sherwood Forest from fracking after getting documents from the Forestry Commission under the Freedom of Information Act.

Campaigner Guy Shrubsole accused Ineos of "sticking two fingers up at England's green heritage" by "hunting" for shale gas in Sherwood Forest.

But Ineos has accused Friends of the Earth of misrepresenting the information.

Ineos Shale operations director Tom Pickering said the company was "exploring the viability" of shale gas across the UK to determine "whether it can be accessed without significantly impacting the local area".

"Friends of the Earth have unnecessarily alarmed the public by misrepresenting information made available to them by the Forestry Commission under Freedom of Information," he said.

"In order to build upon our existing knowledge of the ground below us, we are currently preparing to carry out seismic imaging surveys across our wider licence area in the East Midlands which includes part of Sherwood Forest.

"This process does not include fracking in any form."

Who owns and manages Sherwood Forest?

Image copyright PA
Image caption The Major Oak was Robin Hood's hideout according to folklore
  • Sherwood Forest originally stretched from Sheffield to Nottingham, and was the legendary home of Robin Hood
  • It is now much smaller than it used to be, and is separated by roads, towns and farms.
  • Part of the remaining woodland is designated as Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve (NNR), which covers 1,050 acres of land and is owned by Thoresby Estate
  • Sherwood Forest Country Park is a 450-acre country park within this, and is managed by Nottinghamshire County Council
  • Thoresby Estate currently leases this land to the council so that it can manage Sherwood Forest Country Park
  • Part of the land within the NNR is also leased to the Forestry Commission, and both Thoresby Estate and the Forestry Commission would have to agree for seismic surveys to be carried out there
  • From spring 2018, the entire NNR will be managed by the RSPB
  • The wider Sherwood Forest has a range of different private and public landowners, which include the Forestry Commission

Source: Nottinghamshire County Council and Thoresby Estate

Thoresby Estate's view

Image copyright Defra
Image caption All of the land within Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve is owned by Thoresby Estate

Thoresby Estate "will not agree to either a test rig or permanent well site on any of its land which forms Sherwood Forest Country Park or part of the wider Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve", its resident agent Nick Brown said.

However, Thoresby Estate has indicated it will agree to seismic surveys being carried out. If it did not, Ineos could use powers within the Geological Survey Act 1845 to challenge the refusal.

By agreeing to the surveys, Thoresby Estate can "ensure that safeguards are put in place to protect veteran trees and other historic features, by the use of buffer zones", Mr Brown said.

He added: "Thoresby Estate believes that the seismic surveys being proposed by Ineos will ensure that Ineos have accurate geological data before they start their shale gas exploration.

"This will ensure that if they did drill on land adjoining the NNR that such drilling would not have a detrimental impact on the NNR and other land owned by Thoresby Estate."

Ineos needs permission from landowners to carry out seismic imaging surveys.

It does not need planning permission to do these surveys, but it would need planning permission to do exploratory drilling.

Council 'will protect forest'

Nottinghamshire County Council said any planning applications for shale gas development would be "widely publicised and consulted on".

Head of planning Sally Gill said: "Our world famous Sherwood Forest Country Park, which is also home to the Major Oak and many other ancient oaks, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and is part of the Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve.

"Conservation of its ecology and natural habitats are paramount and the county council will do everything in its power to ensure its heritage and conservation is protected now and for future generations."

The Forestry Commission said: "Forestry Commission England is considering a request from Ineos to undertake a survey on land that we manage in the East Midlands.

"We always carefully consider the potential impacts and their effects on the nation's woods and forests."

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