Wildlife Trust's last minute plea to stop fracking near Notts nature reserve

Generic image of a Hydraulic Fracturing rig.
Generic image of a Hydraulic Fracturing rig.
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Tomorrow marks an important day in the development of fracking in Nottinghamshire, and Wildlife experts are appealing to energy bosses ahead of the drilling application near Misson Carr Nature Reserve.

Wednesday, October 5 may go down in history as the turning point in English fracking as Nottinghamshire faces it's first full planning application to explore for shale gas.

The latest batch of licence areas opened up most of Nottinghamshire and the midlands to exploration for 'unconventional' energy resources. (Source: Fracking Map).

The latest batch of licence areas opened up most of Nottinghamshire and the midlands to exploration for 'unconventional' energy resources. (Source: Fracking Map).

Expected to either pave the way for further applications, or stand as a symbolic defeat of Shale Gas companies, the Misson planning application by Igas will be decided tomorrow.

This marks the first major step towards fracking in Nottinghamshire, while Igas already holds swathes of licence areas in the county, covering Worksop, Mansfield, Nottingham

Planning officers at Nottinghamshire have recommended approval of the plan to drill 'develop a hydrocarbon wellsite and drill up to two exploratory hydrocarbon wells (one vertically and one horizontally) by use of drilling rig together with associated ancillary works'.

The plan would allow Igas to explore the potentially lucrative Bowland Shale beneath Nottinghamshire, giving them permission to drill full wells, and then suspend drilling to assess results before decommissioning the site. The company would have to acquire further permission to exploit the well for commercial extraction.

Artist's impression of shall fracking at another proposed application site at Tinker Lane. (Courtesy Frack Free Notts)

Artist's impression of shall fracking at another proposed application site at Tinker Lane. (Courtesy Frack Free Notts)

The key issues to be considered at the site at Springs Road, Mission, formally a Ministry Defence missile station, are:

Visual and landscape impact;

Flood risk;

Noise;

Ecology;

Traffic;

Air quality;

Contamination;

Unexploded ordnance;

Heritage.

Protesters claim Island Gas has no 'social licence' to frack in Misson Springs, as 98.6 per cent of those involved in consolidation were against the plan - that's 2,2624 compared to only six people were in favour.

However, Conservative Government rules to encourage the passing of shale applications make it very hard for councils to legally uphold decisions against the industry.

Campaigner for Bassetlaw Against Fracking and Frack Free Notts, Greg Hewitt said: "

IGas said it was 'pleased' that NCC planning officers had recommended approval of the plan in Misson Springs.

The company said: "IGas has addressed the wide range of questions, concerns and comments raised by NCC, statutory consultees and others. This work is reflected in the Planning Officer’s Report together with the planning conditions proposed.

As part of its commitment to open and transparent communications IGas has undertaken extensive community engagement alongside this application including setting up a community liaison group which was convened in June 2014."

"The Company will await the Councillors’ decision on this application on 5 October 2016."

Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust has written to both Igas Energy and Nottinghamshire County Council seeking assurances that planned drilling and exploration activity at land off Springs Lane, Misson, just 125 metres away from the charity’s Misson Carr Nature Reserve, will not go ahead.

The nature reserve is a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – making it a nationally important nature conservation area.

The Wildlife Trust has 'longstanding concerns' about the proposals for two exploratory hydrocarbon wells at the site, known locally as The Rocket Site, due to the proximity of the application area to the nature reserve. The charity believes that activities are likely to cause disturbance to nesting populations of protected birds and have a damaging impact on the site’s sensitive ecology by disrupting water levels.

Now, following recent legal advice provided Friends of the Earth’s Rights & Justice Centre it has been brought to the Trust’s attention that such activities would be in breach of a longstanding restrictive covenant which applies to both the proposed drilling site and the nature reserve.

Wildlife supporters may be hoping the protection can make them immune to IGas's local plan, but extenuating circumstances will have to be shown

Speaking about the last minute intervention, Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Head of Conservation, Janice Bradley, said: “Whilst we have long objected to these proposals and are preparing to raise our concerns at the planning meeting scheduled for Wednesday we were very recently informed that both the proposed drilling site and our nature reserve are subject to a legal covenant which prevents noisy, noxious or damaging activity. The covenant also restricts activities that are considered to cause annoyance. Having received legal counsel confirming that the covenant is valid we felt it was vital that we bring this to the attention of the developer, IGas Energy plc and Nottinghamshire County Council ahead of the planning meeting.”

The Wildlife Trust has asked Igas to confirm that none of the proposed activities will be carried out at the Rocket Site at any stage in future so far as the activities breach or are likely to breach the covenant.

Chris Crean, of Midlands Friends of the Earth, said: “The point of a covenant is to provide protections against just the kind of activities that IGas want to carry out at this site. It may be unfortunate for the company, but the law matters.

“If the council were to grant planning permission they would effectively be giving a green-light to a potentially illegal activity by the company at Misson, and that would be an odd thing for a council to want to do.”

The Misson Carr Nature Reserve, formerly Misson Training area, was notified as a SSSI by Natural England for its rare fen and other associated habitats and for its diverse mix of breeding birds including the scare Long Eared Owl which nests in only a handful of sites in the county.

Janice Bradley will make representations on behalf of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust at the planned meeting on Wednesday at County Hall Nottingham.