CAMPAIGNERS are set to fight moves to allow fracking to take place in the New Forest National Park, the Daily Echo can reveal.

The National Park Authority (NPA) is likely to press the Government to exclude the area from the controversial practice, which has sparked widespread protests across the UK.

It follows the revelation that cities, national parks and even urban commons will be opened up for fracking and other forms of exploration.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change is set to announce a new round of onshore oil and gas exploration licensing, with about two thirds of Britain potentially on offer to energy companies.

But the NPA is poised to make a stand in a bid to protect the ancient landscape.

NPA member Cllr David Harrison said: “Most members of the Authority assumed that the Government would exempt national parks from rules that will make it easier for fracking licences to be given.

“Now it seems we’ll have to start lobbying Government ministers and remind them of the very special environment that we’re helping look after.

“The New Forest should be one of the last places in the country where fracking is permitted.

"It would be a mistake to think that the planning process gives the New Forest enough protection against environmental threats on this scale.”

Graham Baker from the New Forest Association (NFA) added: “National parks are our finest landscapes and we oppose any large-scale development.

“The NFA is sending a delegate to the forthcoming Hampshire County Council symposium on fracking to gain further knowledge.”

Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, said the Forest should be a fracking-free zone until the technique had been tested in less sensitive parts of the country.

“I’d certainly like to see the New Forest excluded from fracking until it’s been proven to be safe and u n o b t r u - sive,” he said.

Fracking involves drilling thousands of feet underground and then pumping in pressurised water and chemicals to crack the rocks below and release trapped pockets of gas. The controversial process has been blamed for causing mini-earthquakes in Lancashire.

As reported in the Daily Echo, campaigners have launched a report highlighting the dangers that shale gas exploration poses to wildlife.

The Are We Fit To Frack?

report calls for extraction exclusion zones in environmentallysensitive areas, including national parks. It is spearheaded by leading wildlife groups and supported by a cross-party team of politicians, including Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead.

Last year the Daily Echo revealed that gas companies have already been granted eight licences for fracking in southern Hampshire.

The areas affected include land between North Baddesley and Fairthorne, Kings Worthy and Stockbridge, and Chilton and Amport.

Licences have also been issued for Hampage Wood near Winchester and areas east of Fareham and Hambledon.

It is unlikely that all the sites would be fracked, because some might have the potential to generate conventional gas instead.