1. ITV Report

Bird fear over proposed Blackpool fracking site

Pink footed geese Photo: PA Images

Fracking close to an important wildlife site could disturb birds, conservationists warned as they lodged an objection to the planned scheme.

The RSPB has lodged a letter of objection with Lancashire County Council to proposals by Cuadrilla, which is also facing protests over drilling for oil in Balcombe, West Sussex, for shale gas exploration at a site at Singleton, near Blackpool.

The Lancashire site, where controversial fracking would be used to explore for gas, is close to an internationally important protected area for pink footed geese and whooper swans and could disturb the birds, the RSPB said.

Morecambe Bay special protection area is designated under EU legislation because of its importance as a habitat for a range of breeding and overwintering bird species.

Cuadrilla announced last month it intended to apply for planning permission to frack the existing exploration site at Grange Hill, Singleton.

The RSPB called on Lancashire County Council to ensure Cuadrilla has carried out a full environmental impact assessment before it goes ahead with any work at Singleton.

The wildlife charity is also officially objecting to the plans to explore for oil and gas in Balcombe on the grounds no environmental impact assessment has been carried out there.

And it raised concerns that increasing gas and oil use would undermine efforts to tackle climate change.

Fracking plant Credit: PA Images

Harry Huyton, RSPB head of climate and energy policy, said: "Balcombe has hit the headlines as the battleground in the debate over fracking.

"The public there are rightly concerned about the impact this new technology will have on their countryside. These are not just nimbys worried about house prices - there is a very real public disquiet about fracking.

"We have looked closely at the rules in place to police drilling for shale gas and oil, and they are simply not robust enough to ensure that our water, our landscapes and our wildlife are safe."

Opponents of fracking, in which water and chemicals are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock and release gas, fear it could harm water resources, cause small earthquakes and that development of the sites will cause noise and traffic.

But the Government has thrown its weight behind development of shale gas across the country, claiming it will create tens of thousands of jobs, increase the UK's energy security and could bring down energy prices.

Former energy secretary Lord Howell caused a furore recently when he said fracking should go ahead in the North East because it had "large and uninhabited and desolate areas", before claiming he had meant the North West.

Mr Huyton said: "Singleton in Lancashire is right in the heart of the North West and is on the doorstep of an area which is home to thousands of geese and swans who will arrive from as far away as Siberia to roost and feed next month and stay for the winter.

"There may not be as many local residents as in Sussex, but this area is protected by European law because it is so valuable for wildlife and Cuadrilla has done nothing to investigate what damage their activities could do to it."

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted shale gas exploration should be embraced across the country. But the RSPB has joined other wildlife and environmental groups to urge the Government rethink its shale gas policies.

It was "very difficult to believe" the development of large numbers of sites and wells in northern England would not have an impact on the countryside, Mr Huyton said.

He added: "Fracking is technology largely untested in the UK and we really have no idea what the impact will be on our wildlife.

"We do know, however, that concentrating our resources on extracting fossil fuel from the ground instead of investing in renewable energy threatens to undermine our commitment to avoiding dangerous levels of climate change."