Anti-fracking protesters have begun a slow withdrawal from their camp outside an exploratory oil drilling plant in West Sussex.

Tents, banners and makeshift structures were being cleared from verges on the outskirts of Balcombe following two months of protests.

Campaigners have vowed to vacate the site, which became the national focus of anti-fracking sentiment, by October 8, but they have pledged to come back if energy company Cuadrilla returns.


The firm has dismantled its drill rig and left the site last week after completing its test drilling earlier this month.

Daniel White, 19, of the Balcombe Protection Camp, said: "We are here having a general tidy up and discussing where our next site will be - Manchester, Lancashire - we are going all over the place.

"We will be doing this worldwide to stop fracking. This is something that needs to stop. I think we have had a huge impact.

"It's been a good two months since we've been here. For us, we have got everybody out there listening, and the more people who are aware the better. People need to wake up."

Another campaigner, Pam Lucas, 65, from London, said: "We have to clear up and move to the next site that we feel needs protecting.

"We're trying to keep this land as green and pleasant as possible. This has been a minor victory for us, but we haven't won the war yet.

"I feel as if these people are my family now. We are all passionate about keeping the Earth as it is because it's only on loan to us."

A campaigner calling herself Thea said: "We need to go so that the ground here can recover. It's been trampled on for the past two months, and also people need to recover because it's been very full on.

"But if Cuadrilla come back, I'm pretty sure we'll be back."

A small police presence remains at the camp, in contrast to weeks ago when dozens of officers from forces nationwide descended on the village.

Sussex Police have said they will maintain a few officers in the area, mainly to ensure safety at the camp which is set up beside an unlit 60mph road.

Taxpayers could be saddled with a bill of around £4 million for the policing operation at Balcombe. Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner, is applying for financial help from the Home Office.

More than 100 people have been arrested since the protests began, including former Green Party leader and Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas.

She learned last week that she will be prosecuted for breaching a police order on public assemblies and wilful obstruction of the highway during two days of "direct action".

Cuadrilla was involved in drilling a vertical exploration well, collecting rock samples.

The presence of hydrocarbons, which can be used for fuel, was confirmed at the site and Cuadrilla aims to apply for planning permission to carry out further testing to determine flow rates.