A group of anti-fracking activists on the edge of Sheffield say they are going to ‘build an army’ of residents to stop the controversial industry in its tracks.
The small north east Derbyshire town of Eckington has been at the centre of the national fracking debate since the nearby village of Marsh Lane was earmarked as a potential drilling site two years ago.
But despite a recent planning inquiry set up to decide the matter ruling in favour of petrochemical giant Ineos, the group refuse to give up and - over the past few weeks - the first stirrings of the next phase in their campaign have begun to take shape.
The Bramleymoor Lane site was characteristically quiet last Wednesday, with only the odd car breaking the peaceful rural serenity of country life.
Walking along the lane was dog-walker Lisa Shires, aged 52, who lives on nearby Ridge Road and uses it ‘virtually every day’.
She said after the disappointment of the public inquiry, locals have begun taking non-violent, direct action against the farmer who gave Ineos permission to use his land.
“When he brings his tractor to the field we all rally,” she said.
“Some people come up here and knit, pick blackberries or walk the dog. We peacefully let him know that we are not happy with him.”
“We were absolutely gutted when the decision came through. I cried. I have not slept since this happened because your mind is continually whirring about what could happen.
“But it has brought this village together, we are not going to stand by and we will hopefully stop it.”
Down in Eckington itself, Clemmies hair and beauty owner Clair Cosby has been proudly showing off her expanded anti-fracking window display ever since the ruling came through.
Clair, aged 43, doesn’t live far from the proposed drilling site on Warren Crescent in Marsh Lane, and says the community are still ‘100 per cent’ committed to stopping it happening.
She said: “When it got the go ahead I just thought we had to step it up a bit and try to get more people involved.
“It is not a nice time, especially with all the hard work people have put in but there is still a lot of support in the town. I have lived up there all my life and I used to play in those fields.”
“I can see from my daughter’s bedroom when the farmer is doing anything with his crops and we just take it in turns to go up there and make our presence felt. My mum lives on the same road as me and she will end up with a caravan there, I know she will.”
Overseeing it all is David Kesteven, the chair of Eckington Against Fracking, former Green Party candidate and head gardener at the stunning nearby Renishaw Hall and Gardens.
He says he supports the small outbreaks of direct action at the Bramleymoor Lane site but has his eyes set on a much bigger displays of civil disobedience.
They are inspired, he says, by the long history of such action in the UK by groups including the Suffragettes - as well as examples from around the world such as the tiny community of Bentley, Australia which took on the might of the shale gas industry and won.
“Our strategy is to build an army,” he says.
“They have an injunction against illegal protest so we are not going to do anything like that and I am not interested in a protest camp.
“What we have in Eckington is huge community support. We want them to visit our website, give us their email address and say ‘yes, I am with you’. If we turn up with a thousand people, we stop them.”
David says they will not be planning any actions until Ineos is on the ground - probably, he thinks, about a year from now.
“They can’t stop me walking from Coal Aston to Marsh Lane if I want to, or setting off on a rambling group with a thousand people,” he said.
“I don’t want anybody to get hurt or anybody to get arrested and I don’t want to break the law - but I don’t want them to develop a fracking industry.”
“This is our community against Ineos. It is us against them and unashamedly so.”
“What we have got to do over the next year is really engage with the community. We have been totally focused on the public enquiry but now we have got to look out again and let people know what is being planned for their area.”
Eckington Parish Council chairman Brian Ridgway confirmed the strength of feeling in the area - and said they would do all in their power to halt the process.
He said: “The government seem to be on a hell bent mission to support the companies that want to do this and to take the decisions away from local people. But we still think we can win.
“Ineos have been given permission to drill the exploratory well and a sounding well but that doesn’t say they will be fracking. I don’t think they are too far away but they haven’t done it yet so there is still hope.”
Ineos Upstream director Tom Pickering, said: “Anti-shale activists have spent years spreading myths, lies and fear. This irresponsible scaremongering has left some local residents feeling understandably concerned.
“The truth is rather less dramatic. At Marsh Lane Ineos Shale has permission to drill a single small well, just 10cm across, in order to obtain rock samples from underground. Hundreds of wells like this have been safely drilled at sites around the UK, including a previous site in Marsh Lane. There is no fracking involved.
“Ineos products make the modern world better and safer. From medical supplies to lightweight carbon fibre in cars, from leak-free water-pipes to wind turbines to the gas that heats our homes. All of these are made possible thanks to Ineos.
“Most people in the UK will use Ineos products every day. For example 90% of the UK population drinks mains water – water that is safe to drink thanks to Ineos. Our application was approved because it too is safe. Activists are duping local people and victimising a hard-working farmer. It is time for them to stop. We believe in facts not fear.”