Rethink coal in the UK

If you care about the world and about people, demonising UK coal mining is not the answer. While it’s an easy target for environmental campaigners, you may be surprised to learn about the clear environmental reasons we have for continuing UK coal mining operations whilst we still need coal in the UK…

There is clear misinformation being presented about UK coal mining across both mainstream news media and by campaign groups so we have decided to present a clear and reasoned point-by-point explanation of why caring about the planet means rethinking coal mined in the UK.

1.The need for coal in the UK is ongoing beyond using it for energy

At Banks, we agree that we need to generate more of the electricity that we will increasingly need from renewable sources. That’s why we develop, build and operate onshore wind farms across the UK and are actively exploring opportunities for the development of other renewable energy technologies including solar PV, pump storage, battery storage, and renewable heat networks. The coal we mine is now increasingly used to supply UK industrial customers rather than just for electricity production. However the UK has an ongoing need to mine coal (and the fireclay in the seams below it) if we are to produce steel, cement, bricks, and to supply the ongoing demand from our traditional coal-using customers in the UK including breweries, heritage railways, paper mills, sugar manufacturers, large commercial greenhouses and smokeless briquette manufacturers.

Even if we closed all UK coal-fired power stations TODAY, we still need five to six million tonnes of coal in the UK per year for the UK’s steel, cement and other industrial use…The high quality raw steel made in the UK cannot be made without coal and coke used in blast furnaces.

2. Importing more of the coal that the UK needs will increase greenhouse gas emissions

To fulfil this demand, the UK is importing 80% of the coal that we need.  As our current mines come to an end, the UK could either import more coal or mine it indigenously. Importing coal causes far higher greenhouse gas emissions compared to mining it here. In 2017 alone, the UK imported 26% of its coal from Russia – which has created as much as six times the greenhouse gas emissions of transporting locally mined coal to customers in the UK.

Ultimately this means that if you care about greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale and recognise that the UK still needs coal to produce steel, cement and to supply other industrial customers, then it is better to mine it here. However, greenhouse gases are not the only concern.

3.  Whilst we still need coal in the UK we should mine it in the UK responsibly

Understanding that we still need coal in the UK and if we care about the planet’s overall health, the best route forward is to mine it as sustainably as possible here in the UK, close to our customers. Recognising this, we must landscape our mines very carefully and sensitively both during operations and afterwards, whilst transitioning towards more renewable energy-focused models for our industrial customers and for electricity generation.

At The Banks Group, this means doing our best to control the issues historically associated with surface coal mining:

  • Dust is kept to a minimum, to protect our employees and the wider community. We have constant dust-suppression units in operation, travelling across our sites to spray water to dampen haul roads and excavation areas to keep dust levels to a minimum. We to constantly monitor air quality and we operate a wheel wash so the wheels and undersides of the coal wagons that leave our sites are clean before they move onto local roads
  • Noise is controlled by a number of factors, including additional noise insulation, uprated exhaust silencers and broad band reversing alarms fitted to our large mining plant.
  • Site safety is a priority and we strive to achieve high standards – at our mine in Shotton, Northumberland, employees have passed more than 500,000 hours of no lost-time injuries
  • In terms of environmental and ecological issues, we landscape our completed surface mines to deliver a range of enhancements including biodiversity and habitat creation and recreational use.

4. How do we return our mines after operations have finished?

At The Banks Group our aim is to create even better environments after our operations cease.

To do this, we take a Development with Care approach, performing a detailed assessment of the site and the surrounding area and agreeing plans for its after-use which can include the creation of wildlife reserves, with new ponds, woodlands, footpaths and bridle paths in natural landscapes. Some of our previous sites have even lead to nationally-recognised tourist attractions, such as Northumberlandia in the North East of England. See: https://www.northumberlandia.com/ . Our restored Doe Hill surface coal mine in Derbyshire has been designated as a local nature reserve, just 12 years after replacement of the soils.

Our Oakenshaw is a prime example of the beautiful landscapes we restore following our mining works

Development with Care isn’t just a slogan. We have proven our approach time and time again across the country, creating new environments that wildlife can thrive in and local communities can enjoy.

Preserving existing wildlife

We utilise data collected in the site’s planning process to shape how the working site can be managed and the completed site landscaped. The priority species and habitats are retained on or adjacent to the site through the management of existing habitats and the creation of new ones on the working areas and any new landscaping of the site as well as around its periphery.

This approach has shown at our current Brenkley Lane and Shotton sites that the range of pre-existing habitats and species can be retained and where possible increased. Examples of the successful implementation of this approach are:

  • 51 species of breeding birds were recorded on the pre-working Brenkley Lane surface coal mine which increased to 56 species in 2015 whilst the mine was operational.
  • Two species of bat were recorded at Shotton (pre-working) and seven species recorded during mining operations in 2015.
  • There was no woodland on the Brenkley Lane site before it was worked with 7.2ha new woodland planted in 2014.
  • There was only 1km of species rich hedgerow on the Brenkley Lane site pre-working with a total of 2.6km of new hedgerow planted in 2014, which is now well established.

Individual species that have increased:

  • Lapwings on Shotton have increased from six pairs in 2008 to 19 pairs in 2015. (red listed for conservation)
  • Skylark on Shotton have increased from 11 pairs in 2008 to 29 pairs in 2015. (red listed for conservation)

Deer on our Brenkley Lane site.

5. How do Banks surface mines support UK housebuilding?

The UK government has set a target of building around 250,000 new homes each year, for which 3,750,000 tonnes of concrete will be needed. To produce this amount of cement requires around 125,000 tonnes of coal. In addition, fireclay which is found as the seat earth beneath some of the coal seams is used to create bricks. Hopefully with the examples above you’ve seen the effort that goes into our mining operations to protect the environment, local communities and employees – but did you also know that surface coal mining also often extracts fireclay as well?

This means that by opening a surface coal mine, we are extracting two essential mineral resources to support UK industry, coal and fireclay – and doing so in a responsible way and adding new valuable landscape features and habitats once the mining operations are finished.

6. Just as we mine responsibly, we also aim to responsibly support jobs and communities.

Almost all of The Banks Group’s activities on a site support the local economy both directly and indirectly. Take our Bradley surface coal mine, for example, where half of the 41 employees on site live within five miles of the site and almost all live within 15 miles. These local people benefit from jobs that offer attractive rates of pay and stable employment. We offer training and qualification opportunities for our local employees.

We also ensure that local contractors are used wherever possible, further supporting businesses and communities within the regions in which we operate.

7. A surface coal mine provides an opportunity to benefit communities AND to increase biodiversity

Wildlife is a major consideration in any of our plans to develop a new surface mine. We protect existing wildlife species on our sites and in many cases, increase them. When a surface mine is completed, we plan a variety of after-uses including the creation of wildlife havens and habitats to help encourage wildlife to flourish on the new landscape.

Landscape and recreational benefits are provided in addition to the ecological benefits delivered by our surface mines. Careful consideration is given to the design of landform, field patterns, locations of woodlands, field copses and individual hedgerow trees to create enhanced landscapes that can incorporate new footpaths, bridleways, seating, signage and interpretation. In some cases we have provided new multi-user paths for cycling, riding, and walking, with better accessibility for people with disabilities and good signage, making the new landscape more accessible to a wider range of users.

As part of the planning application for a surface mine a plan is agreed, detailing how the land will be landscaped once the mining work is complete.  Surface mining provides the opportunity to make changes to land that might otherwise not have been possible.  Contaminated land and instability can be cleared up, flooding can be alleviated and new landscape features can be created.

Our sites are restored with the principle of what is created is an improvement on what was there before.  In turn this enhances the landscape and encourages biodiversity and habitat creation.  Features that we add often include wetland areas, woodland ponds and wildflower meadows.  Some of our sites are developed into community parks to provide better public access and facilities such as fishing lakes, new footpaths, bridleways, cycle ways and public art.  New trees and hedgerows are also planted with ditches and swales to help drain and enhance the agricultural land.  To date we have planted over one million trees on the new landscapes that we have created on our former surface coal mines.

Once mining operations have been completed, they enter an aftercare phase of at least five years to ensure the high quality of the landscaping is maintained.  For more information please see: https://www.banksgroup.co.uk/mining/mining-restoration/

8. Our track record

If you care about the environment, it follows that you also care about greenhouse gas emissions. If we cease coal mining in the UK now whilst we still have demand for coal, we will simply increase imports of coal from Russia, USA, Columbia and Australia to support our steel and cement manufacturers and other industrial users. Instead, Banks Group provides mining operations that has been proven to:

  • Successfully landscape ALL of our mining sites to providing new amenities including woodland, grassland, agricultural land and wildlife havens.
  • Support local economies and secure jobs.
  • Work responsibly with minimising impact from noise and dust.
  • Invest in the development of onshore wind farms, which displace carbon emissions from the electricity supply grid
  • Support local communities with community funds.

Ultimately, our position is a globally-minded one. It cannot be right to rely on imports of coal to fulfil the UK’s enduring need for coal – the transportation over vast distances emits far higher greenhouse gas emissions when compared to coal mined in the UK. Instead, we should focus on mining in the UK as sustainably as possible and continue to invest in increasing the UK’s generation of new renewable energy sources.

We should secure UK jobs, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and support UK industry by continuing to mine coal that we still need in the UK whilst ensuring that all our surface mines are fully landscaped once they are complete. That is our goal here at The Banks Group.

If you still have questions and want to know more, please contact  enquiries@banksgroup.co.uk today.

Registered office: Inkerman House, St John's Road, Meadowfield, Durham, DH7 8XL

Registered in England number 2267400. VAT registration number 569 3236 14

© 2019 Banks Group. All rights reserved.