The Blog

Fracking in Balcombe: A View From Inside the Camp

It is a brilliant camp and if you're clever enough to realise what a monumentally bad idea fracking is, I'd urge you to go down there and join them. For the day, for the weekend, even just for an evening. You'll learn about the arguments, show your support and you might be surprised to find you'll have a bloody good time.

Disclaimer: This is my point of view, to give you a light-hearted rookie protester's insight into what it's like in the fracking protest camp at Balcombe. I hate fracking. I don't claim to speak for the camp.

There's a camp at Balcombe to protest against fracking. It is a brilliant camp and if you're clever enough to realise what a monumentally bad idea fracking is, I'd urge you to go down there and join them. For the day, for the weekend, even just for an evening. You'll learn about the arguments, show your support and you might be surprised to find you'll have a bloody good time.

The Green Party's Natalie Bennett was speaking at the camp on Saturday and she commented on what I'd noticed too, this was a protest that united seasoned protesters with first-timers, the usually apathetic and even local conservative voters. She said she had people coming up to her and saying "Help, it's my first protest... what do I do?"

What type of fracking protester are you?

These are the sort of people I met at the camp. Game of Top Trumps in development.

The rookie from the smoke

Who? They've heard about fracking on Twitter, done some Googling, become irritated and headed here at the weekend from London or Brighton.

Distinguishing features: Trilby, clean clothes, smart phone.

Most likely to: Instagram pictures of funny placards and policemen playing with hula-hoops

Main objection against fracking: YouTube video of people in the US setting fire to their tap water.

Placard slogan: Down with this sort of thing #frackoff

Conversation starter: "Is this your first protest too?"

Do say: "What's your Twitter name? I'm going to retweet that."

Don't say: " you're only here at the weekend then, when there aren't any trucks?"

The experienced protester

Who? They know what they're doing and they're here for the long haul.

Distinguishing features: Ability to make a cup of tea at their tent without going to the kitchen, slogans from past protests, roll their own cigarettes.

Most likely to: Get a campfire going.

Main objection against fracking: Against rich people making money by messing with everyone's water supply and local environment.

Placard slogan: Shut the gate

Conversation starter: "Where do you think I should pitch my tent to most inconvenience the police?"

Do say: "Did I see you at occupy?"

Don't say: "Are the toilets as minging as the ones at Glasto?"

The political animal

Who? Affiliated with a party, they're here armed with leaflets and when not here they're campaigning back home with more leaflets and on Facebook.

Distinguishing features: Green party badge, leaflets or possibly copies of Socialist Worker.

Most likely to: Have coherent arguments against fracking ready in easy-to-remember sound bites.

Main objection against fracking: The bigger picture: climate change, energy prices.

Placard slogan: Green Party: The only mainstream political party against fracking.

Conversation starter: "Did you see what David Cameron said about fracking on the news the other day?"

Do say: "Do you have a membership form?"

Don't say: "Have Brighton residents had their rubbish collected yet?"

The conservative voter

Who? Feeling let down and concerned about the potential damage to their village. As surprised as you are to find themselves at a protest camp.

Distinguishing features: Nice clothes, lives locally. Avoids political discussion.

Most likely to: Bring a water sample from their tap for everyone to inspect.

Main objection against fracking: Damage to local environment from large trucks, potential water contamination, water bills and house prices.

Placard slogan: Balcombe against fracking.

Conversation starter: "It's a beautiful area isn't it, have you been living here long?"

Do say: "This is a cross-party issue."

Don't say: "NIMBY"

The kids

Who? There are loads of little kids. Loads of them.

Distinguishing features: Small people, running about in the kids' area covered in paint.

Most likely to: Bring down one of the tents by jumping on it.

Main objection against fracking: Mum brought me here.

Placard slogan: Don't destroy my future.

Conversation starter: "Do you want your face-paint re-done?"

Do say: "Stay away from the road."

Don't say: "Have we got enough water for those water pistols?"

The proper hippy

Who? Loving the earth, sad about fracking.

Distinguishing features: Sitting in the lotus position, wearing crystals.

Most likely to: Run a meditation workshop in the dome tent

Main objection against fracking: Destruction of mother earth

Placard slogan: Only when the last river has been poisoned, will we realise we cannot drink money.

Conversation starter: "Do you know any yoga?"

Do say: "Let's hug it out."

Don't say: "Do you know if the communal kitchen serve any meat? I could murder a bacon sandwich."

The fracking boffin

Who? They know their fracking backwards and they've based their arguments on peer-reviewed science. They might work in the environmental sector. They may even have filmed a documentary.

Distinguishing features: Filofax of printouts of planning applications.

Most likely to: Go through Cuadrilla's orginial planning application with a fine tooth comb and a highlighter.

Main objection against fracking: These companies are trying to push this through and local councils are making decisions without properly looking into the risks involved.

Placard slogan: You can't kid a kidder Cuadrilla

Conversation starter: Ask anything about fracking.

Do say: "Can you email me the evidence to send to my MP?"

Don't say: "I know, right? I saw a guy set fire to his tap on YouTube."

The conspiracy theorist

Who? They're here, and at every other protest, because someone has to root out the truth about this government conspiracy.

Distinguishing features: Handing out leaflets suggesting we reinvestigate 9/11.

Most likely to: Go off on a tangent.

Main objection against fracking: This whole thing is part of a massive government cover up - just like the moon landing and 9/11 and did you know Osama Bin Laden is still alive?

Placard slogan: The truth is down there.

Conversation starter: "So, who shot JFK?"

Do say: "I always thought there was something weird going on with September 11th."

Don't say: "Don't you think you're sort of discrediting the camp by putting posters like that up?"

The police

Who? There are police all over the camp, all the time but mostly standing in front of the gate.

Distinguishing features: The ones in yellow are there to stop you going in the gate and possibly arrest you. The ones in blue are there to liaison with you and try and be friends. The ones you can't spot in plain clothes might even try and marry you, father a few kids and dramatically disillusion you nearly a decade later.

Most likely to: Spend all day and night standing in front of the gate.

Main objection against fracking: This camp means we're all on overtime.

Placard slogan: Police against fracking. (Someone put it in front of them while they were standing in front of the gate.)

Conversation starter: "The weather, the quality of the camp food over their options from contract caterers."

Do say: "Am I legally obliged to tell you that, officer?"

Don't say: "Go ahead punk, make my day."

See all the interesting and awesome people you can meet? So if you're annoyed about fracking, why not pop your protest cherry and head to Balcombe?

How to get there

The camp is here. You can drive there and park up on the verge right next to your tent. I went on the train which was the easiest journey ever, a short and direct walk from the station. So easy I'm thinking about just heading down for the evening.

What to take

Warm clothes, banners to hang about the place, gazebos and tents. There is a communal kitchen which will provide you with free food, tea and coffee, but it's handy to take some of your own if possible and maybe some veggie fare to share at the kitchen. The camp have a 'wish list' of things they are short of, so check that out before you go and take what they need. Updates can be found on this website.

What you'll do

At times when the site is quiet like weekends you'll hang out, discuss strategy, join workshops on everything from your rights if searched by police to yoga. During the week you might do more shouting, walking slowly in front of trucks, direct non-violent action type stuff. However there is no pressure to get involved in any non-violent direct action (NVDA) if you don't want to. In fact most of the seasoned campers do not really want people to come and start straight away standing in front of lorries!

Chat to the people there and you'll find a wealth of experience, legal knowledge and good advice. Go for it.