By Emily Flanagan
IT’S bitterly, bitterly cold. I’ve been at the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp – in a field in North Yorkshire – for only an hour and my hands and feet are already numb. I’m offered a welcome spot on a hay bale by the campfire – the heart of the camp – and a cup of homemade soup which has just been made over a stove fashioned from the inner wheel of a truck tyre is thrust into my hands.
It’s warming, but I notice there’s no way of completely throwing off the uncomfortable chill for people staying here. The small tents and caravans dotted around the frozen ground don’t look like they offer much respite from the icy temperature.
One person tells me that whenever he feels hard done by he thinks of the people at Standing Rock in North Dakota, who are protesting against an underground oil pipeline in -34 degree conditions. “We’re a long way from that,” he adds ruefully.
It’s this foggy field between the A169 and Kirby Misperton where opposition to fracking has now switched its focus, having gone from council meetings across North Yorkshire to the High Court in London, where campaigners lost a judicial review.
Campaigners say they felt their only option was to set up a protest camp, from where they plan to begin direct action when work begins at Third Energy’s site just down the road.
Tracie Marcelle and Jane Rowbottom outside the camp's SolidariTea Saloon
About half the people at the camp have experience of environmental protests in other parts of the country. The rest are new to this world.
Despite the unrelenting cold, everyone seems pretty cheery.
They talk passionately about the sense of community and shared purpose they get from the camp.
Throughout the day visitors from the surrounding area pop in to drop off everything from homemade bread to spare wellies. Last week the local bus service made an impromptu stop outside the site and nine passengers got off to see the camp. Every visitor is offered a place by the fire and a cup of tea.
Emma, who was busy making a large pan of soup when I arrived, says the regular visits and beeps from passing cars showing their support helps to keep everyone’s spirits high in the winter weather – along with donations of hot water bottles.
“It’s freezing, but it’s the warm food and also the warmth of our neighbours that helps us,” she says. “We feel really, really supported. We’ve had about 1,500 guests through the gates so far. It really keeps our spirits up. People come and drop off some food and stay for three hours.”
Fracking protesters huddle around an open fire
It’s fair to say that not everyone in Ryedale has welcomed the arrival of the camp, with some claiming the protest will do more to destroy the local tourism industry than fracking. The road where they plan to disrupt lorries heading to the Third Energy site is also the road to Yorkshire’s most visited paid-for attraction, Flamingo Land.
Third Energy’s response to the camp is a statement saying it respects people’s “right to lawful and peaceful protest”. It adds: “We trust that those who object to our plans will also respect our rights and the rights of Ryedale residents, to go about our business lawfully and peacefully.”
Eddie Thornton, from Pickering, has been at the camp since before Christmas, giving up his job to join the protest.
“People have come from Lancashire, East Yorkshire and other places that are threatened with fracking,” he says.
Local chefs from Kirkbymoorside have volunteered to cook for the camp, but its inhabitants also take it in turns to make hot food on the truck wheel stove. Behind the tented kitchen a large vegetable plot has been dug. Life on the camp is makeshift, but well-ordered and practical.
Joe Boyd keeps a stove burning against the cold
The recycling is carefully sorted ready to be taken away by residents. Food is placed in a walk-in food store created from wooden pallets. They have installed their own solar panels and wi-fi connection, allowing them to broadcast updates on YouTube and Facebook from their “rustic TV studio”, assembled mostly from hay bales and plastic awnings with a dark red, leather-effect settee in the middle.
“Everyone just mucks in using their skills,” smiles Emma.
“It has made a beautiful community,” adds another.
Nearby, two people are constructing what will be a “geri-activist motel” from wooden pallets, to provide a warmer, more comfortable environment for “older people who won’t want to camp”. A significant number of older protesters are expected to join and help disrupt trucks trying to reach Third Energy’s site by “slow walking” in front of them.
“This camp will be won through the geri-activists,” explains Eddie. “Ryedale is acutely aware of fracking; my community has spent close to £250,000 trying to stop it democratically. Every town and district council in this area has objected to it; now everyone is ready to take it to the next step.”
COUNCIL PLANNERS TO RULE ON COMPLAINTS
COUNCIL chiefs are looking into a number of complaints about the anti-fracking camp at Kirby Misperton, writes David Mackie.
The camp, which has been there since before Christmas, has gradually grown as more demonstrators join the protest.
Ryedale District Council’s head of planning Gary Housden said that the first few weeks had been relatively low key, and that the council had not received any complaints for some time after the camp was established.
However, he confirmed that in the last three weeks or so they have received about a dozen complaints about the camp.
He said: “They are mainly concerns over highway issues, about the number of visitors and parking on the roadside at the site.”
Mr Housden said the planning department was gathering information and if there was a decision to be made on the camp, it would be made by the councillors on the planning committee, which would be at the earliest in March, but probably later.
The anti-fracking camp
Eddie Thornton, one of the protesters, said: “The parking is something that we are trying to deal with. But in wet weather, people have to park by the road.”
He said that police have told them that cars are allowed to park on the roadside, but added they are appealing for temporary parking in the community.
“I think this is one thing that people are trying to target us with,” he said. “We see this as an orchestrated campaign by pro-fracking groups. If they have 12 complaints, compare that against the levels of support we have.”
Mr Thornton said that a group of the Protection Camp members had visited Chorley in Lancashire at the weekend to help kickstart the campaign against fracking there.
He claimed this action had led two companies to end their involvement with fracking firm Cuadrilla.
“This is what we are intending to do at the Yorkshire site as well,” he said.
“We are seeing local businesses waking up and pulling out and deciding it’s not worth their while.”