There are days when campaigning is frenetic, others when it can be langorous. This fell into the latter category: a family picnic at Leith Hill Place in Surrey on Saturday 13th August, organised by A Voice for Leith Hill and supported by the National Trust.
Blessed with stunning views across the Weald to the South Downs, Leith Hill Place was the childhood home of composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, and lies just south of the summit of Leith Hill, the highest point in South East England. The house is being gradually restored by the National Trust, opened quite recently to the public and houses some musical instruments and memorabilia from the great composer's life. Leith Hill Tower, a folly often visited by walkers, was built by a previous tenant of Leith Hill Place, and the whole area, a mixture of woods and heathland, is popular with hikers, cyclists and horse riders, as well as hosting precious flora and fauna. Vaughan Williams's best known composition is probably "The Lark Ascending"; he also wrote symphonies and choral works; and he started an annual music festival still held in neighbouring Dorking.
What then, could be more natural, than for Europa Oil & Gas to propose this famous beauty spot as a good place to start exploratory drilling for oil and gas? And for Surrey County Council to approve it? They are working their way through several pre-conditions, including traffic management - which promises to be interesting given that all access roads are very narrow winding lanes through deep cuttings with overhanging trees. The residents of Coldharbour, a picturesque village clinging to the slopes of the Hill, are understandably unimpressed, but their well resourced legal challenges have so far failed.
The artists and other residents behind A Voice for Leith Hill are confident that the battle to save the area is only just beginning. Direct action has not been ruled out. The genteel and langorous picnic included music and a talk about the ecology of Leith Hill. It and the other awareness raising events are intended to draw together the many people, local and not so local, who wish to protect the area.
Greenpeace continues to provide what support it can to local groups fighting new oil and gas exploration. My duties on the day: a stint of car park stewarding, a bit of networking, sharing my alcohol-free beers, humus and pitta bread with other supporters, and gawping at the stunning view.
Visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/1745727365657821/ to keep in touch with A Voice for Leith Hill.
Visit https://www.facebook.com/groups/frackfreesurrey/ for general info on campaigns against tight oil and gas in Surrey.