An anti-fracking protest camp that has been in place for over a year in North Yorkshire is shutting down voluntarily after campaigners declared "victory" in their fight against a shale gas firm.
The camp was established in December 2016 on private farmland without the permission of the landowner in an attempt to prevent company Third Energy starting test-fracking at a site on the other side of the village.
In recent months, campaigners have also set up tents and caravans by the gates of the Third Energy site as attempts were made to delay work starting by preventing vehicles getting on to the site. This so-called 'Forward Protection Camp' will remain in place to 'monitor activity' at the site.
More than 80 arrests have been made since September 2017 as campaigners engaged in a vast array of tactics to prevent work taking place; from ‘slow walks’ in front of vehicles heading to the site to jumping on lorries and even encasing their arms in concrete and metal tubes and lying in front of the site entrance until they were cut free by police using specialist equipment.
The camp is expected to be cleared within a few weeks. But with further fracking exploration planned across Yorkshire, campaigners today warned firms involved in the shale gas industry to "expect us" at similar demonstrations.
Third Energy had initially hoped to start work before Christmas in what was expected to be the first fracking work in the UK since 2011, when it was found to be the cause of minor earthquakes in Lancashire. But following the Government announcing it would review the company's finances before work was allowed to begin, it has been removing equipment from the site.
Campaigners today said it was clear fracking will not be taking place "anytime soon". But Third Energy said today the work is still planned once Government approval is received.
Fracking is designed to recover gas and oil from shale rock deep underground using high-pressure water mixture. The Government believes, despite environmentalists’ concerns about the increased use of fossil fuels, as well as chemicals escaping and contaminating groundwater, that “shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs” and seven companies, including Third Energy, have exploration licenses to see whether the process is feasible across vast swathes of Yorkshire.
A spokesman for 'Kirby Misperton Protection Camp' said today: "In January 2017 we pledged to the local community that KMPC would remain and continue its campaign of direct action until Third Energy were no longer a threat to the area.
"The last two weeks have seen convoys of fracking equipment leaving the site and this week we celebrated as the rig was finally removed. It’s clear that Third Energy are not going to be fracking anytime soon, and so the time has come to begin packing up the Kirby Misperton Protection Camp.
"Ryedale’s victory is down to the many layers of the campaign working tirelessly together and all pulling in the same direction. We have achieved what many people said was an impossible task. The odds were stacked against us - the pad was built, the well was drilled and all the necessary infrastructure was in place. If we can beat them at those odds, other communities can feel empowered to do the same.
"It has been an honour and a privilege to meet and know so many campaigners, and we offer our sincere gratitude to everyone who has been part of or supported KMPC.
"It’s been wet, it’s been cold and it’s been muddy, and we would like to thank all those who offered us warmth and rest in their homes. We thank everyone who gathered with us in the cold of last winter to build the camp, and those who came week after week, generously delivering food, water and wood, and of course the caring group who delivered lovingly made, hot meals during the busy times of action.
"We thank those who have donated money, and our friends in larger organisations for their generous support.
"We offer our utmost respect to our neighbours in Kirby Misperton, and thank everyone who has offered encouragement and support so selflessly, even as the burden of this national struggle has fallen at their door.
"We are humbled by the strength of the local councillors who have taken a principled stance in support of the camp. We thank all of the MPs and political party members who have visited the gates, inspiring us with their speeches and their plans to bring about a UK wide ban on fracking.
"Finally, our ongoing solidarity goes to our friends at the Forward Protection Camp who continue to keep a permanent watch on the gates, with thanks and admiration for their immense contribution to the protection of Kirby Misperton.
"We now begin the process of returning the field to its former state and will be arranging community work days over the coming weeks, during which we look forward to celebrating with everyone who has been involved. Please look out for these dates to be announced and for the details of our final closing ceremony.
"We end this with a warning to any fracking company planning to exploit this land for your own profit and personal gain: Expect us."
A spokesman for Third Energy said: “We are sure that the residents of Kirby Misperton who have had their daily lives disrupted by the activities of the protestors, many of whom are not local, will breathe a sigh of relief at the news they are leaving the area, as will our employees and suppliers who have been regularly intimidated and threatened.
"The UK has a strong regulatory framework in place, and it is understandably taking some time to make sure that our project near Kirby Misperton meets all of the requirements put in place by the government to protect the environment and communities in relation to onshore natural gas development.
"In January, the Secretary of State confirmed that he was satisfied that Third Energy has met all of the thirteen technical requirements set out in section 4A of the Petroleum Act 1998. We are currently working with the government on the final step of the regulatory process which involves providing the financial information requested to facilitate the final Secretary of State consent for our Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation programme near Kirby Misperton.
"On completion of the approval process we will finalise our operational arrangements and move forwards with the Hydraulic Fracture Stimulation and production of the KM-8 well; delivering some much needed gas for power. We thank the local community for its patience and can confirm that Third Energy plans to be working in the Vale of Pickering for many years to come.”
Superintendent Alisdair Dey, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “Throughout this operation we’ve been balancing the needs and wishes of everyone at Kirby Misperton. We will continue to work with people on all sides of the issue, ensuring those who remain and want to protest can do so safely, and minimising any disruption to the local community.”