CAMPAIGNERS have attacked a government U-turn that could result in fracking being carried out beneath the New Forest and other national parks.

A cross-party committee of MPs will today debate the potential impact of fracking and the level of protection given to special areas of the English countryside.

The government originally pledged that fracking would be banned in national parks, including the New Forest.

But new regulations say energy companies will be allowed to drill horizontally under protected zones as long as the wells are outside the boundaries.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said that shale gas exploration in the UK will create thousands of jobs and cut reliance on imports.

But the government’s U-turn has sparked fears that national parks will be “ringed” by shale gas operators.

Daisy Sands, head of energy at Greenpeace, said the new rules were set to be rushed through without a debate in the Commons.

She added: “It is deeply disturbing that the government appears to be playing fast and loose with democracy.

“Not only are they breaking their promise that national parks would not be scarred by fracking, but they are trying to sneak these regulations through the back door of parliament without any proper scrutiny from MPs.

“The government is riding roughshod over democracy to industrialise our most beautiful landscapes.”

Julian Lewis, Tory MP for New Forest East, said no fracking should take place in national parks until its impact on other parts of the countryside had been assessed.

“We need to obtain a lot more evidence and experience before contemplating it in sensitive areas,” he said.

Fracking has been linked to earthquakes and other environmental problems.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the move to allow it to take place under national parks was first proposed earlier this year.

The government said the legislation needed to be flexible to prevent the fracking industry being “unduly constrained”.

Last night a New Forest National Park Authority spokesman said: “We continue to have concerns about allowing hydraulic fracturing to take place below ground in National Parks.

“Our understanding remains that the proposed relaxation of the planning regulations do not extend to surface fracking in the National Parks.”