Joy for campaigners as oil drillers are told to leave South Downs National Park

CAMPAIGNERS are celebrating a long-awaited victory after oil drillers were told to pack up and leave a regional beauty spot.

Campaigners from the Markwells Wood Watch at one of their meetings is 2017 Picture by Emily Mott
Campaigners from the Markwells Wood Watch at one of their meetings is 2017 Picture by Emily Mott

Markwells Wood Watch has spent the past two years locking horns with UK Oil and Gas (Ukog) over its plans to extract fuel from four wells at the South Downs National Park.

The firm had earmarked an acidisation site at Forestside near Rowlands Castle – but has now been told to remove its equipment and restore the area by the South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA).

Emily Mott, of Markwells Wood Watch, said: ‘Markwells Wood is an ancient woodland in the middle of a national park.

‘We are absolutely thrilled that Ukog has been told to withdraw all their equipment and restore the site.’

The energy firm was dealt the blow in an SDNPA notice on March 14 – which stated it must move its machinery from Markwells Wood in the next six months and carry out a restoration of the site within a year.

It came after a 2017 hydro-geological survey commissioned by Markswell Wood Watch found acid fracking at Forestside could result in chemicals migrating into nearby aquifers.

As a result, it was feared the action could damage the quality of water supplies in Havant, Bedhampton and Portsmouth if it led to pollution.

Ms Mott said: ‘Our drinking water is some of the most pure in England and we want to keep it that way.’

Now, as Ukog engages in next-step planning talks with the SDNPA after being told to shut up shop, campaigners have pledged to ‘remain vigilant’.

Markwells Wood Watch member, Reed Paget, said: ‘This has been an extremely mature campaign, not fought by nimbyism [from the acronym for ‘not in my back yard’] or emotion alone, but scientific evidence.

‘But until the community has officially won this particular battle, the war is still ongoing.

‘This is a great result but there is a need to remain vigilant.’

On Monday, Ukog issued a High Court claim for an injunction banning protests on stretches of road outside entrances to its site at Forestside and ‘legal’ attempts to damage its economic reputation.

As the fourth oil and gas company to seek these restrictions, Ukog also refused to comment on the SDNPA notice.