Police have moved in to start evicting protesters who have blockaded a rural site in West Sussex earmarked for exploratory oil drilling by a fracking company.

Anti-fracking campaigners said a number of arrests were made in the village of Balcombe where Cuadrilla is expected to start test drilling in days.

Protesters gathered outside the entrance on Thursday to prevent equipment being moved on to the site amid fears about the consequences of fracking to the local community.

Cuadrilla has said it intends only to conduct exploratory drilling in a temporary operation which will not include hydraulic fracturing.

On Friday the campaign group Frack Off said more than 50 police started evicting people from the blockade, which has attracted more than 250 activists and residents.

Some protesters, who include a former Page 3 girl, a "professional clown" and veteran eco-campaigner Simon "Sitting Bull" Medhurst, have vowed to mount a 24-hour campaign of resistance against fracking in Balcombe.

A Sussex Police spokesman was unable to confirm the numbers arrested. Witness Ashley Williams criticised the police for their response.

She said: "This is a totally disproportionate response. The community are standing up for themselves against a company that is trying to poison them.

"As soon as regular people put their head above the parapet the state jumps in to defend the interests of a wealthy few."

Cuadrilla began delivery of the main drill rig to the Balcombe site this week, saying that the delivery and erection of the rig and associated components will take around four days.

The company said earlier this week: "Cuadrilla's forthcoming activity at Balcombe is for exploratory drilling only and is a temporary operation that will not include hydraulic fracturing.

"Should Cuadrilla wish to undertake further activity, they would need to apply for new permissions and licences from the relevant regulatory authorities.

"We have communicated what we are doing to the local community through information sessions and written communications.

"Furthermore, we have been in regular contact with the parish council and other local councils as well as going through all the necessary planning and permit applications to undertake this work.

"We will continue to inform the community of our actions as we progress."

West Sussex County Council granted Cuadrilla planning permission to undertake exploration work in 2010.

Cuadrilla has said that, if it finds any supplies, a series of extensive technical, environmental and public consultations would take place before any further decisions are made.

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