Great Britain

Climate activists and local campaigners to blockade mine in protest at expansion plan

Climate activists are preparing to shut down a coal mine for three days in protest at expansion plans.

Extinction Rebellion (XR) is joining forces with local campaigners to blockade the open-cast coal mine in County Durham on Wedesday.

The climate protesters, who are prepared to be arrested, say expanding mining flies in the face of the need to urgently stop burning fossil fuels that accelerate the climate emergency.

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Local residents, meanwhile, warn the plan would devastate an area that is home to red kites, badgers, bats, great crested newts, common blue butterfly, barn owls and a range of plants and fungi.

The blockade launches 40 days of planned action, starting symbolically on Ash Wednesday, by XR campaigners demanding urgent action to halt biodiversity loss and reduce the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero within five years. The XR group members are planning “non-violent civil disobedience”.

A row over mining in the Pont Valley in Durham flared up in 2015, when permission was granted for a new 550,000-tonne coal mine. The Banks Group, which operates two coal mines in Northumberland, said earlier this year it would push ahead with the project.

More than 300 protesters are due to join the blockade, called We are the Dead Canaries, in the culmination of a four-week campaign against the proposed expansion of the Bradley mine.

They want Durham County Council and the government to reject the idea, pointing out that both the council and Parliament have declared climate emergencies.

In 2018, the UK decided to phase out coal from 2025.

Planning permission for the mine was refused by Durham County Council three times, in response to a massive public outcry, with more than 5,500 objections, but the mining company won on appeal.

An XR spokeswoman told The Independent: “We want to draw attention to the absolute hypocrisy of expanding mining. It’s not just a local issue: the government is doing nothing to intervene.”

Kevin Haigh, 73, whose grandfather and father were local miners, said: “Banks’ Group say it’s better to mine here than import our coal. To that scientifically dubious claim, I say ‘Would you like to die from Russian coal or UK coal?’ We don’t want to die from any coal pollution!

A vicar will hold an Ash Wednesday service during the protest.

The Independent has contacted Banks for a comment. 

On its website, the company says it was committed to restoring the environment when its mining has finished.

It adds: “Relying on coal imports rather than using domestic supplies simply off-shores our environmental responsibilities, threatens the jobs of our hard-working, highly-skilled northern workforce, results in increases in global greenhouse gas emissions and distorts the true picture of the UK’s total emissions, which best practice says should be measured not just on what we make here, but also on what we buy in from abroad.”