Druridge Bay threatened by giant opencast coal mine

05 Dec 2017
Its stunning white beaches and sandy dunes make Druridge Bay a hotspot for people and wildlife. But this beautiful Northumberland getaway is in danger of losing its charm. A huge coal mine has been proposed in the area, which would be a disaster for the climate and the local community.

"We have treasure here but it’s not coal. The treasure is our landscape which is breathtaking."

John, resident

Druridge Bay is a 7-mile stretch of Northumberland’s most beautiful and loved beaches. From the harbour town of Amble in the north to Cresswell in the south. There are also pools, sand dunes, woodland, meadows and nature reserves – all home to precious wildlife.

Druridge Bay view from above
Druridge Bay
Credit: Ian Cook

Slapping a coal mine right next to the beaches and the dunes threatens rare species, the landscape and local tourism. And digging up coal will make climate change worse.

"Once they start mining on that land it will never be put right, it will never be back to how it was."

Marian, resident

Rare wildlife in Druridge Bay

A number of species in serious decline depend on the habitats that Druridge Bay provides.

On a trip to the area in late spring, Friends of the Earth spotted rare wildlife well inside the proposed mine boundary. Skylarks in full voice, and lapwings, were both trying to nest. There was the eerie and enchanting call of curlews which are struggling to breed on farmland these days. A group of pert wheatears appeared on open pasture. At sun set, 3 brown hares lolloped across the field. Back towards the coast road, yellowhammers peppered the hedgerows and straw bales. These brightly coloured birds are a sign of good arable habitat.

A yellowhammer bird perching on the branch of a tree
A yellowhammer bird (location unknown)

You'll find many other creatures here throughout the year, including resident and migrating birds like graylag, pink-footed geese, and grasshopper warbler.

Most of the species we saw are in serious decline. Between 1995-2014, UK breeding populations of skylarks have declined by 24%, lapwings by 43%, curlews by 48%, wheatears by 11%, yellowhammers by 14%, and brown hares by 5% – according to the British Trust of Ornithology Breeding Bird survey report 2015.

If this coal mine goes ahead, it will take many beautiful and declining species that little bit closer to the edge.

“I think people feel disbelief. How can you put something which scars the land so badly on such a beautiful place?”

Stephen, resident

Who wants to put a coal mine in Druridge Bay?

Banks Mining wants to dig England’s largest opencast coal mine in the picturesque surroundings of the bay. It tabled its proposal in October 2015. 

Quarry lorries move materials around the Ffos-Y-Fran opencast coal mine on November 17, 2009 in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales.
Opencast mining is carried out on the surface (Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales)

Much to the anger and disappointment of the local community, Northumberland county council voted to approve the plans the following summer.

But following campaigning by Friends of the Earth, and community group Save Druridge, the government intervened. Minister Sajid Javid called in the controversial proposal in September 2016 over climate change concerns.

A public inquiry then took place in June 2017. With local residents we gave evidence for why the government must reject the coal mine. Now it's over to the Secretary of State to make a final decision by March 2018. There's still time for us to urge him to reject the mine.

The government has promised to phase out coal in the UK by 2025. It made the pledge ahead of the Paris climate talks, when world leaders signed up to prevent global warming spiralling out of control.

To prevent climate change claiming more and more lives – and making flooding in the UK worse – we need to keep at least 80% of proven coal, oil and gas reserves in the ground.

Hopefully ministers have realised that digging up yet more coal is completely contradictory to the Paris climate deal. And that planning rules must be changed to leave dirty energy in the ground. 

Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole

Are there alternatives to coal? People need jobs

There is no future in burning coal. Any employment would be short lived. And in any case, this coal mine proposal doesn't come with an enforceable promise of new jobs for local people.

As coal fizzles out, renewable power is on the rise. By 2030, the UK will have to get 75% of its electricity from clean energy sources. The smart money then is on the wind, wave and solar industries.

What coal has done for the North East is develop a tradition of engineering and science, which should be used for developing renewable energy. 

Chris Kilsby, Prof. of hydrology and climate change, Newcastle University

Who wants to save Druridge Bay?

Many residents are outraged about the prospect of living next to a dirty new coal mine.

They're worried about the health impacts – including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases – as well as the negative impacts on the landscape, local wildlife and tourism.

Air pollution is a real concern. The drilling, blasting and transportation of coal produces tiny particles that can enter people's lungs and blood. Exposure to these particles is linked to a number of health problems and premature death. There is no safe level of fine particulate air pollution according to the World Health Organisation.

We’re going to have all this dust surrounding us for years. What impact is that going to have on all of us? 

Maria Farrow Tate, resident

Members of the community have other concerns about the coal mine too. They're worried it will damage the local economy – through loss of tourism and a slump in property prices – and undermine efforts to tackle climate change. Thousands of people around the country support them in their fight to save Druridge Bay.

If you’re a business and 40% is wiped off your capital asset value because of your neighbour’s activity, you no longer have the capital on which to borrow, to expand, to take on new employees. 

Jonathan Roger, Resident 

What is Friends of the Earth doing to save Druridge Bay?

The local community have been running a hugely effective campaign with the help of groups like Friends of the Earth and its supporters. Together we've inspired thousands of people to take action:

  • Over 10,000 people have written objections to the mine.
  • Over 500 people emailed their councillor in Northumberland, and many more sent in letters.
  • 300 people came to a beach rally.
  • The campaign has made local and national headlines.
  • TV conservationist Bill Oddie got behind the campaign.

It's not the first time that we've helped the community fight off threats like this. In the 1980s, plans for 2 nuclear power stations cast a shadow over the exact same spot of land. But a campaign by locals, helped by Friends of the Earth and its supporters, saw the plans dropped. 

What we can do now

Druridge Bay is no less beautiful today than it was in the 1980s. With the threat of climate change, it’s doubly important we work together to stop a hideous coal mine from ripping up this stunning landscape. It’s time to save Druridge Bay.

Save Druridge: End Coal