Sherwood Forest, fabled home of Robin Hood, faces fracking threat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 1:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 January, 2017, 10:09pm

The latest battleground for the future of fracking in Britain looks set to be Sherwood Forest, the legendary home of folk hero Robin Hood and now the target of a seismic survey by the chemical multinational Ineos.

Ineos, which moved its headquarters back to Britain last month, appears to have agreed terms with the Forestry Commission to start burying seismic charges and spend up to two years searching for shale gas.

Campaigners have called on the government to block any possible fracking and protect the forest.

According to documents obtained under a freedom of information request by Friends of the Earth, Ineos could be working within 200 metres of the Major Oak, a 1,000-year old tree that in folklore sheltered Robin Hood and his merry men.

Commercial fracking has yet to start in Britain, although Ineos and other firms have obtained licences from the government for shale gas exploration. The technology has been deeply controversial since tests conducted by Cuadrilla in 2011 caused earth tremors near Blackpool, but fracking operations are expected to restart in five wells in Yorkshire and Lancashire later this year.

A small protest camp has been established at Kirby Misperton, North Yorkshire, at one of the wells where gas firm Third Energy has been given permission to start fracking.

Guy Shrubsole, a Friends of the Earth campaigner, said he expected the move to search for shale gas under Sherwood Forest to become a new rallying point. He said: “I can’t think of anything more iconic in the English mindset to go for. You’d have thought they’d have learnt from the mistakes of some of the other fracking companies to avoid it, but they’ve gone straight for it.”

Ineos told the Daily Telegraph that no decision had been made on whether fracking would go ahead under the national nature reserve, adding that “any decision to position a well site will take into account environmental features such as the Major Oak”.

The firm’s shale operations director, Tom Pickering, said: “Potentially we in the UK have a huge supply of indigenous gas under our own feet. It would be simply crazy not to explore this natural resource.”

However, Friends of the Earth fear that the seismic surveys alone could damage the forest, whose core is a site of special scientific interest, and its wildlife, which include rare bats and other protected species as well as ancient woodland. The Forestry commission has mandated that Ineos plants its charges at least 50 metres away from badgers’ setts and conservation sites.