Shaftesbury Environmental Campaigners Plan Three-Day ‘Pilgrimage’ To The Coast

A Shaftesbury environmental action group is planning a three-day walk to Studland to protest about fracking and oil-drilling.

The company that is currently undertaking seismic surveys along the Dorset coast say their work is safe but they won’t comment on their future work. Alfred reports.

Shaftesbury’s branch of the climate emergency campaign group, Extinction Rebellion (XR), is heading south and they hope to gain media attention from their ‘pilgrimage’. Member Ed Bersey says the group is concerned about government plans for oil drilling and fracking on our doorstep.

Although oil has been extracted on the Dorset coast for years, XR Shaftesbury believe it’s time to call it a day. “I was shocked to find out that Wytch Farm is the largest inshore oil field in Europe. It’s in Purbeck and it’s been here since 1960. What is most concerning, in the current climate change situation, is we find ourselves continuing to explore for oil. Recently the government granted licences for exploration off the Jurassic Coast in the Poole Bay area. They have successfully discovered more oil reserves and are looking to extract that,” said Ed.

Ed Bersey

In a statement to Alfred, Perenco said they were undertaking a 3D seismic programme around the Dorset coast designed to gather new data relating to the subsurface structures. They said it is a safe, highly regulated and widely used in the oil and gas industry. Percenco state that the survey has no negative impact on wildlife or the environment. Their spokesman added that this activity started in mid-August and will last no longer than 70 days.

XR Shaftesbury wants all fossil fuel exploration and extraction activity around the Dorset coast to end. Perenco’s press office declined to comment on the company’s future plans.

Shaftesbury’s Extinction Rebellion has joined forces with campaign group Save Our Shores for this march. The date has been chosen to coincide with another climate change action, ‘Earth Strike’. Activists hope to encourage the first general strike in Britain since 1926, to highlight their demands for action on the climate emergency.

Ed says that the three-day protest march from Shaftesbury will start on Friday, 27 September and will also be a precursor to a two-week XR protest in London from 7th October. “The group is walking from Shaftesbury as a pilgrimage. It’s a journey for local people in Dorset to make from one location to another, culminating near Old Harry Rocks, where we’re going to get together and celebrate what is good about our environment and hopefully raise awareness of what has been happening,” he said.

Ed says time-pressed campaigners don’t have to give up three full days to take part. “People don’t have to do the whole pilgrimage. They can do a little bit or they can do all of it. They can do whatever they wish or whatever they feel.”

Walking 43 miles in one stretch is not feasible, so Ed says that the march will be broken down into stages. “The first leg will go to Blandford. Then we’ll go to Wareham, and next we will go to a meeting at Joe’s café, where we will all come together. We will make the last short walk out to the cliffs,” said Ed.

Discussion on overnight accommodation options has begun. “It depends really on the numbers that are involved. It may be that some people will be able to put a few people up. It may be some people will be able to support us by bringing some equipment along.”

Some people prefer to sleep in their own beds and Ed says ‘pilgrims’ can return home to sleep each day, if they would rather. “There are no rules as to what or how you do this. This is a pilgrimage of your own making. We’re setting out a pathway and you can join in whichever way you choose to do so.”

The group is considering hiring a bus to bring the pilgrims home. They are also planning entertainment. “I think there’ll be all kinds of singing and some poetry. We’re hoping to have a celebration when we arrive at the cliff. We’re asking people to have a think about that themselves. Bring along bells for ringing in the changes. I’m sure there will be some singing,” said Ed.

XR’s proposed protests, particularly disruptive action in order to secure climate emergency measures, are receiving mixed responses on Shaftesbury’s social media. Some locals are supportive, others condemn the action.

On Alfred’s Facebook page, Alison wrote, “I don’t agree with bringing city centres to a standstill and preventing people going about their daily business’, and Dan opined, ‘meetings to encourage are fine but protests are just disruptive’.

Ed says the local group wants to gain attention, but they are a non-violent campaign group. “This is a peaceful protest. We want to spread the word about what is happening and draw attention to it. Hopefully, if we have enough people, we will form into the shape of the Extinction Rebellion symbol and take a photograph of that. We are letting as many media channels and outlets know about what we’re doing as possible, so that we can get as much coverage as possible.”

A pilgrimage planning meeting will be held at 7pm on Thursday the 5th September at Shaftesbury Town Hall.