The Balcombe anti-fracking protest has been gaining momentum since the first activists arrived three weeks ago. Although there are no immediate plans to use fracking at the site, the controversial technique could be deployed into this green corner of West Sussex, if fuel reserves are found. For those that haven't heard, "fracking" involves pumping liquid at high pressure deep underground to split shale rock and release gas for fuel. It also involves a range of health hazards for locals and widespread environmental destruction.
Many have travelled the whole country to what is now seen as the front line of tracking protesting in the UK. Over the previous weeks, hundreds had been coming down to the fields outside the village of Balcombe. Travelling by train, coach or car, they are preparing for the to dig in for what has been described as a six-day campaign of "civil disobedience" on the B2306 road in, beginning today – Monday 19th August 2013,.
Dame Vivienne Westwood joined the anti fracking camp on Friday. She said: "The only people who are going to benefit from it is this energy company who are associated with the Government. I'm anti-fracking. My son organised it and said it was a good day to come. I'm really glad I did – I came to support the people in the climate camp and the people in the village. Apparently, 85 per cent of them really are against fracking.
"There is a publicity company trying to tell something different. This is what we are up against! The villagers tell me is that not only this council but 60 per cent of the land in the British Isles have already agreed to this licence," she explained "Well, what happened in their case was they were given three days to agree, they all ticked the box to say they didn't want it and nobody listened to them. This has happened over 60 per cent of our country, this surreptitious agreement, and it's got to be stopped. The more the public know what's been happening, the more difficult it's going to be for the government to push this through. Meanwhile, they are trying to scare everybody by saying there is this big rush to get involved in this global energy race. The race for what? As soon as [energy company] Cuadrilla have got this licence sorted out they are going to sell it on to other people. They are just in it for quick money, and this company is very associated with the government, and the public need to know that their government is trying to deceive them."
The fashion designer is launching Climate Revolution through her blog. “The Climate Revolution charter will be online in a couple of weeks. One of the things we want to do if for a new government that will get its support from the social media. The first thing was are doing is publishing what should be the energy policy of this country." Westwood is working with a host of NGOs to develop her ideas. When I asked her, she said "No, I won't be Prime Minister. Maybe we don't need a Prime Minister."
The village locals seemed divided about the actual protest. They are getting sick of the protesters, and the locals look at journalist with the same disdain. No one seems to trusts each other. One young villager who refused to be named said, "Four farmers have been interviewed and not one of these interviews were used in the press." As more press arrived, in the camp the mood was that of paranoia.
"Don't take my picture without asking first" said many protesters — one local woman pleaded for everyone not to wear masks, "They look threatening" she said. Other protesters disagreed. There was certainly a split between peaceful protesters and the more full-time activists – not that I was keen on hanging around too long to find out the difference anyway. Even the police were giving me a hard time when I went through a road block. "Can you not read?" The seven-foot tall officer said, pointing to that read "Road Closed". They were now blocking the roads for no apparent reason. Finally I found a safe place to park up and wire some photos to the picture desk.
A woman with flowers in her hair asked if we had permission to park. "I believe we do" I said. "Yes, the police said you have". She must have thought I was working under-cover. On my way out, a police officer stopped me and said "Do you have permission to park there, sir?" "Look" I said, "I'm a journalist, we are responsible people". The officer looked confused.
Until now, police have successfully enabled workers to continue drilling. Leaders of the campaign group Occupy called for 'a huge show of force', and police also feared veterans of the violent Dale Farm traveller camp are already amongst the the protesters. As a result, Cuadrilla executives have already announced they would scale back drilling. It is believed that work will in fact cease due to concerns over "health and safety".