Plans for fracking are not just a danger to the environment, they are a sign of a broken democracy, say activists. Lucy Pegg investigates the battle for land, democracy and the future, in the fields and forests of Nottinghamshire.
“I’m doing as much as I can to support the anti-fracking movement.
“If that means doing things that are against the law I will do that because this isn’t democracy.”
Trish Forster isn’t who you’d expect to say this.
She’s not a balaclava-clad anarchist or an idealistic student protester.
Yet, seeing environmental damage on the horizon and with opposition struggling to be heard, the 64-year-old former teacher has given up her job so she can fight fracking.
Though no gas left the ground, the threat of hydraulic fracturing – commonly known as fracking – looms ever nearer for Nottinghamshire.
Licenses were sold off nationwide in 2015 and now companies want to survey their licensed area, hoping to better map the gas up for grabs.
In Nottinghamshire, planning permission for this has only been granted at Misson Springs and Tinker Lane, near Doncaster, so far.
Just this week drilling began on an exploratory well at Tinker Lane.
Across the county, huge swathes of land stand ready and waiting for fracking, from Sherwood Forest to Clumber Park, where the National Trust are fighting a legal battle over their refusal to allow seismic surveying.
It’s in Sherwood Forest that Trish is based.
She grew up just one village over from Ollerton, the earthquake capital of Britain, where the impact of decades of mining still causes earth tremors.
“We were a coal field, we just got over that,” says Trish.
“Each village had a pit with its big slag heap.
“All those slag heaps are now nice country parks, which is great, but we’re going to be turned into a mine field.
“I think there’s something much bigger and deeper and dangerous at the end of it.”
Trish, who read environmental studies and physical education at university, hasn’t lost hope in people – but she has lost faith they’ll be listened to.
She was enthused by crowds at an anti-fracking event in Sherwood Forest recently, and the outcry over shale gas extraction in Robin Hood’s home.
“I went down to London with a petition, 300,000 people signed to say not to frack Sherwood Forest” says Trish.
“But it doesn’t do anything, they just ride roughshod over us.”
Fracking companies strongly contest this.
Ann-Marie Wilkinson – director of corporate affairs for IGas, who run the active sites at Tinker Lane and Misson Springs – believes public opinion is on their side.
“Government polling has consistently shown that the majority of the British people either do not hold an opinion about fracking or are supportive,” she explains.
“A further 72% are concerned that we are becoming too dependent on other countries for our energy”.
Ann-Marie is convinced that shale gas’ potential “meets the criteria for energy security economically, environmentally, now and in the future.”
But when questioned about recent earthquakes caused by fracking work in Lancashire, she’s defensive.
IGas say the ‘seismic traffic light system’ they must adhere to is significantly lower than the limits placed on other industries which cause earthquakes, like quarrying.
The earthquakes in Lancashire would never be felt at the surface and normally would not be recorded.
Trish dismisses their defence immediately. All statistics can be “massaged”, she says, and they don’t prove anything.
She also explains that IGas have been splashing around cash in Blyth, the village near Tinker Lane, in hopes of getting locals on side.
For Trish, its yet more undemocratic behaviour, preying on those “who are only just managing to keep their heads above the water” and cannot afford to turn down their £250 payouts.
Other activists agree with her.
Julie Field, 41, lives in Haxey, near IGas’ North Nottinghamshire sites.
She also thinks the figures from IGas are manipulated.
“We have a thirty year supply of energy already, we need to work towards renewables,” she argues.
Julie describes herself as a “regular taxpaying mother” and epitomises how fracking has transformed ordinary people into radical grassroots activists.
After learning about shale gas planning applications on the Isle of Axholme, she threw herself into action.
“The first thing I did was in December 2014.
“I held a public meeting in a local village hall to get more people aware and knowing that it’s coming to the area.
“It was the first thing I’d ever done and 50 people came.”
But just like Trish, Julie has seen the might of the people stymied by the authorities.
After her first involvement the mother-of-two was struck by how little she was listened to.
“I was doing everything in my democratic power and hadn’t realised it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
“You see democracy and realise it was worthless.
“You see injustice and start thinking “why?””
But she thinks the actions of the police are the most worrying.
“You feel like a piece of poo on their shoe” she says.
Social media is littered with videos of protesters being manhandled by the authorities, and complaints have been made to Nottinghamshire Police.
Both women speak of the disproportionate police response, with Trish describing how herself and four other women will regularly be supervised by two minibuses full of officers.
She feels it’s impossible to connect with the police too.
“I try to talk to the police officers, I tell them to look at the research themselves. I say that I taught them or their children, that I’m doing this for them.”
With the 35th anniversary of the miners’ strike approaching, there are echoes of this earlier fight in the fracking struggle.
Destruction of the environment and heavy-handed policing are not new to Nottinghamshire.
Activists have also been hit by a high court injunction, taken out by IGas in September against “unlawful” activism at their Nottinghamshire sites.
Since then, 20 minute slow walk protests – which are usually considered legal in case law – have been stopped.
According to Julie “now, unless you’re at the side of the road, you run a serious risk of being arrested.”
This hasn’t deterred protesters though, and just weeks ago two activists were arrested after locking themselves together for 80 hours outside the Tinker Lane site.
For companies like IGas, supported by Westminster and winning planning permission from councils, democracy is working well.
But activists, arrested, ignored, and feeling like victims, are unlikely to agree.