Accidental activist — I’ve done it for myself.
In response to my last post, many of my fellow activists sent messages with thanks for my anti-fracking campaigning with BOW. And, although it is very nice to hear genuine appreciation, reading the messages I kept thinking: I haven’t done it for you, I haven’t done it for the community.. I haven’t done it for my child or even for nature. I’ve done it for myself!
I’ve done this work because I needed to. Because I need nature, I can’t function or feel well without it, and it hurts to watch it being destroyed. Some of us don’t realise it, but we are all animals that need a healthy natural environment. By the way, it is not true the other way around.
I was lucky to grow up with a forest as my playground, but prior to moving to Holmwood, I lived in London’s urban jungle for a number of long years. Feeling like a fish out of water, suffocating in tailpipe fumes, saving everything I could to get out of there. For months after the move, I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. That I now really lived in the beautiful green Surrey Hills. Amongst trees, owls, deer, rabbits, and badgers, hosting a family of hedgehogs in my garden with a view on a 150-year-old copper beech. This is where I finally felt like I could belong. And to be a mum.
The bliss was shattered when Max was 15 months old. Someone dropped a leaflet about a protection camp at Leith Hill. Jenny at the camp told me about the planned drilling there, the prospect of fracking at Brockham, and back-to-back wells across the Weald. I didn’t believe it at first. I thought: it can’t be, it’s probably some conspiracy theory... But that evening, frantically searching for more information, I found confirmation for everything Jenny had told me. The more I looked, the more alarming it was.
From disbelief to anxiety to anger to rage at the drillers, the council, the regulators, and the government, to feeling betrayed, to deep sadness and a crushing sense of powerlessness and hopelessness… I didn’t know what to do with it. It felt like a nightmare I wanted to wake up from. It took over my every thought, every conversation. Why was this allowed to go ahead? In England? With all its laws and protections? At Leith Hill? If they could drill there, then no place in the whole country was safe. Why sacrifice such a precious area — already under pressure from house building and the ever-expanding Gatwick — to extract more dirty oil that we should have weaned ourselves off decades ago? To extract it not just by pumping nodding donkeys, but by using fracking-like extreme methods. I’d learnt about the controversy around fracking while in Ohio (next door to Pennsylvania) and could not believe that such destructive technology would ever be considered in England — which is only 1.3% of the size of the US!
I was sliding into a dark place — familiar from the past — and had to do something to pull myself out of it, to protect my mental health and my sensibility. There was no chance in hell I could sit back and watch them destroy and pollute the place that was now my home.
I went to meetings, brought meals and supplies for the camps, slow-walked some lorries at Brockham — unaware of just how divisive such activities were in the village, more on that maybe another time — but I had a lot of questions and soon figured that my best contribution would be finding answers, leveraging the law if necessary, and translating regulatory jargon into English for the community. I think it’s worked quite well, and thanks to everyone who was on this journey with me. A few years of this work resulted in writing and publishing — with two brilliant co-authors— an academic, peer-reviewed paper about how most of the oil and gas developments pursued today in England are fracking by stealth. I always wanted to be an academic — that didn’t work out, but fracking provided an amazing opportunity to really indulge my inner nerd :-)
For the record, and contrary to the hilarious accusations by some paranoid investors, I was never on the payroll of Gazprom or anyone else, I was not trying to disrupt the UK democracy through propaganda, I’m not Russian and I was never married to any of the planning officers weighing in on Brockham! And here’s my message for some investors and industry people who have trolled me and other activists:
It’s only now, when I’ve gained some perspective after stepping back from it all, that I see how tough these years were. There was always so much to do! There was some stress and friction — bound to happen when trying to do something important together with people who are practically strangers! Some of them so strong-willed and convinced of their rightness that they failed to consider other people’s points of view or personal circumstances. Others seemingly more concerned with how activism could enhance their own personal profile than with the issue itself…
But the biggest problem for me was always the immense pressure on time. Max needed a LOT of attention. Despite my involvement in local issues, we didn’t have much of a support network and we both worked a lot, my partner and I. He did his best to support me, but couldn’t help to feel resentful about how much time ‘oiling’, as he called it, consumed. It was hard, impossible really to juggle it all. I can never make up to Max the time I didn’t give him. But I don’t regret what I did, at this stage at least, and hope he’ll understand. This was the price for something equally as important, and that is meaning.
This work gave me a purpose beyond myself and my small life. It is my most meaningful contribution to the wider society to date, and possibly ever. More importantly, I met some of the most sensitive, conscious, gentle, inspiring and colourful people. Their courage and resolve to live by their values puts me to shame. These beautiful people — some of them no longer with us —made me aware of so much more than fracking in England. It runs deep... I am forever grateful to them, and to the penny stock pump-and-dump Weald oil drillers, for pulling me out of the soulless hamster wheel of a middle-class achiever — it’s too easy to get caught up in its enchanting ignorance… For that, I thank you.
Now I have even more questions, more fundamental ones, and some more searching to do amongst all the nonsense, noise and false narratives. But this time, I’m going to take some time and enjoy it.
Co-founder of Brockham Oil Watch. Proud immigrant NIMBY (in solidarity). Not an environmentalist, just human.
P.S. All my work with Brockham Oil Watch has been voluntary and unpaid.
P.S.2 Here are some pics of Leith Hill from my crappy old iPhone.