Anti-fracking protesters who set up camp in a field close to where energy firm Cuadrilla wants to drill for shale gas were today due to leave the site they have occupied for more than two weeks.
Members of the group, who took over the field off Preston New Road before being joined by hundreds of campaigners from Reclaim the Power, said they plan to leave the farmland as they found it.
The protesters, a group of self-styled ‘nanas and grandmas’ from across the Fylde coast, announced last week they would be leaving the site of their own free will today – the day before a court hearing that could have seen them evicted.
Blackpool resident Tina Rothery, one of those who has been occupying the field, said there were around five tents remaining last night.
“Thanks to the help of neighbours we are all packing away,” she added.
“We have a film crew ensuring there is documented evidence of the clean-up.
“We have also invited the farmer to come and inspect the site before we leave.
“We are confident we will be leaving with the minimum intrusion – and far less than fracking would cause.”
It comes the day before a hearing is due to take place at Manchester High Court after Cuadrilla, along with 10 farmers and landowners, started legal proceedings that would make it illegal to occupy the field, as well as others on and around the two sites where it plans to drill.
The campaigners have always maintained their actions did not break the law.
However, Cuadrilla and the National Farmers’ Union have condemned the action of protesters as “illegal trespassing”.
NFU Lancashire County Adviser Adam Briggs said: “At a busy time of year for farming with harvest in full swing illegal trespassing on farmland is unhelpful and potentially dangerous.
“Anything that jeopardises the ability of farmers to gather in the harvest is clearly not good from a sustainability point of view.”
Francis Egan, Cuadrilla chief executive, said: “This illegal occupation of farmland, damaging a local farmer’s business and causing stress to his family should not be tolerated.
“While we accept the right to peaceful protest, this and other recent actions by protestors have been far from peaceful.”
Meanwhile, a Freckleton business leader has called on the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce to rethink its pro-fracking stance.
Michelle Clarke, managing director of Talent Dynamics and member of the chamber, wrote an open letter calling on it to take a neutral stance and hold a full-member consultation on fracking.
Referring to the fact Cuadrilla leases office space from the organisation, she wrote: “I find it highly inappropriate that the North and West Chamber of Commerce, with its weight and influence, should accept money, provide office space and prioritise and promote the fracking industry over the needs and concerns of its other members and local community, without any consultation process.”
Babs Murphy, chief executive of the chamber, said she was aware of the letter and had “responded accordingly” to its author.