Spirits high as protest wins roadside support

A brisk walk along the divot-ridden verge of the A583, near Westby, would usually yield to your ears the mooing of cows or tweeting of birds.

By David Sharman
Wednesday, 13th August 2014, 12:16 pm
Anti-fracking protestors who have set up camp at a field of Preston New Road, due to be drilled to test for shale gas.
Anti-fracking protestors who have set up camp at a field of Preston New Road, due to be drilled to test for shale gas.

But if you’ve been walking along the same stretch of road since Friday, it’s the irrepressible and constant sound of car horns that will have invaded your consciousness.

It’s not a traffic jam causing the noise on this busy commuter route between Blackpool and Kirkham though – it is motorists sounding their support for the mothers (and grandmothers) making their very own stand against the threat of fracking.

Around 20 tents have now been pitched at the field on which energy company Cuadrilla aims to drill test wells to gauge the feasibility of carrying out the controversial shale gas extraction process.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And, far from the “professional protestors” pro-fracking business group North West Energy Task Force fears will descend on the site, we were greeted by two mothers holding homemade placards.

They told The Gazette last week they aim to stay there at least until the Reclaim the Power camp, which is set to bring 1,000 protesters, arrives on the Fylde coast tomorrow.

Susan Marshall, from Ambleside Road, St Annes, explained her decision to join the camp.

“We want a public inquiry into fracking, then the job’s done properly”, she says confidently, unperturbed by the wild Fylde winds, which she and her fellow demonstrators have to deal with regularly.

“That would be a result.”

Susan began reading up on fracking, the process of injecting water and chemicals at high pressure into shale rock deep beneath the surface to release natural gas, around 12 months ago.

Unconvinced by the arguments in favour of it, this is her first time taking a public stand on any issue.

She says she feels vindicated by the “phenomenal” reaction she claims the campers have received from passers by, adding: “We counted for an hour on Monday, and we got a lot more than 100 honks in that time with just two people

giving us the thumbs down.

“I was really quite surprised.”

Her 12-year-old son Morgan is nearby, and seems as headstrong as his mum in his concerns about the subject, with a field full of tents the perfect medium for him to protest.

“I like camping,” he says.

“I’m worried about water and earthquakes, they have to stop.” Morgan, a pupil at a specialist music school in Manchester, has been entertaining this fledgling community at night, with his violin skills the talk of the campfire.

But despite its jovial nature, the protestors have a serious message to broadcast.

Westby farmer John Tootill believes the matriarchal make-up of much of the camp will distance comparisons with ugly scenes which took place at other proposed shale gas sites such as Balcombe, in Sussex, and Barton Moss, near Manchester – especially in the light of claims made by Fylde Council member Coun Maxine Chew that sections of the anti-fracking lobby are “aggressive and antagonistic”.

Mr Tootill, whose decision to erect signs decrying shale gas 100 yards down the road at his Maple Farm Nurseries business has seen him threatened with possible court action by the authority, said: “It’s very important because it takes away tensions.

“Mothers and grandmothers aren’t seen as being hostile so there isn’t a bad-natured side to it at all.”

Mother-of-two Linda Shannon, from Westby, added: “It’s such an emotive subject when you’re talking about things which might affect your children. No doubt there will be the odd outburst but on the whole I would say it’s a very peaceful protest, there’s no hidden agenda.”

Like Susan, Linda only recently become interested in the issue - but the strength of her feeling is clear.

She said: “We’re just trying to get the awareness through to local people and across the UK.”

Up to 100 activists from Reclaim the Power could descend on the Fylde coast tomorrow for a six day-long protest.

A spokesman for Cuadrilla said: “Cuadrilla has consistently made clear that it supports the right to peaceful protest.

“We are naturally concerned that the safety of our workers, Lancashire residents and peaceful protestors is not affected by this promised ‘direct action’.”