SUSSEX Wildlife Trust is delighted at the West Sussex County Council planning committee’s unanimous decision to reject the application by Celtique Energie for exploratory drilling at Boxall Bridge near Wisborough Green.

The proposed drilling site is adjacent to our Northup Copse ancient woodland nature reserve.

But the grounds for refusal concerned impacts of traffic on safety, the amenity value of Wisborough Green Conservation Area and the selection of the site by Celtique.

These are all important considerations but we have been seriously disappointed by the poor standard of information on ecological impacts in support of the application.

We maintain that there is a risk that protected bat species, which are generally scarce in England and have a vitally important stronghold in the Wealden woodlands, could be harmed by lighting effects.

Celtique has failed to produce sufficient information to make a proper judgment.

Quite frankly we are appalled that the applicant seems to have taken such a cavalier approach to wildlife in the vicinity of the site.

It does the industry no credit whatsoever that they have failed to provide relevant details of the intensity of lighting associated with the 45 metre high drilling rig, and claim that they cannot model how far the light will extend into adjacent woodland.

The methods and timing of their survey work on bats has been inadequate.

How can they possibly believe that a proper assessment can be made on the basis of poor data?

It’s the failure of Celtique Energie to provide adequate evidence on traffic impacts that has persuaded planning officers – with strong support from the Highways Agency – to recommend refusal.

We are pleased that the planning committee has followed this good advice, in spite of the eleventh–hour submission by Celtique of a 200–page document in an attempt to have the decision deferred to a later date.

But we remain dismayed that similar high standards appear not to have been applied to considerations for wildlife.

We are disappointed that Natural England have not taken a more robust approach in defence of the wildlife interests.

This is a test case for Sussex Wildlife Trust. We’re at the southern end of the English ‘fracking front line’ here. Licences covering nearly half of Sussex have been sold to half a dozen companies to explore and potentially to exploit hydrocarbons, and the Department for Energy and Climate Change is poised to sell even more.

The licences extend over protected areas which we insist should be recognised as fracking exclusion zones.

We’re equally concerned that any decisions to permit drilling must take proper account of impacts on nature and the wider environment, in particular safeguarding water resources.

We will continue to object to drilling operations for shale gas and oil until companies demonstrate that they are willing and able to present adequate information to determine environmental impacts. On present evidence this promises to be a long battle.

Ian Hepburn, head of conservation Sussex Wildlife Trust