Old King Coal: Shaping the UK Coal Mining Industry

The 1984 strike had a profound effect on the UK coal mining industry

The mining strike of ‘84 is not only a key historical factor in UK Coal Mining, but forms part of a wider picture of UK history. Thirty-five years on, we look at how the mining industry has evolved since.

Autumn 1983 saw more than 25000 miners across the UK faced with the prospect of losing their jobs and incomes with the news of the planned closure of over 20 coal mining pits. The news of these closures led Arthur Scargill, the President of the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) to announce a year-long national strike action in March 1984. The repercussions of the mining strike and resulting animosity between classes and communities are still profoundly felt in mining communities across the UK today.

Scargill’s decision to strike was technically illegal as no national ballot of NUM members was held prior to the action. Miners from Yorkshire and Kent downed tools followed closely by those in Scotland, South Wales and Durham. Tension grew between Thatcher’s government, who had planned to close inefficient mines and collieries, and the mining communities, who opposed the closures. The strain came to a head at the ‘Battle of Orgreave’, a violent confrontation between pickets and the police at Orgreave coking plant.

Many repercussions of the strike are social or political. The battle of the classes, Thatcher’s government, and the coming together of communities across the UK are just a few impacts that have been written about. These writings sometimes appear to romanticise the strike, putting forward a story of good and bad, no matter which side the writer is in favour of. Some believe that by romanticising the strike, the full extent of the suffering and hardships faced by communities during a difficult time becomes a footnote of history – forgotten families and communities have been shunned aside as numbers in GCSE history books.

The impact of the mining strike on the UK coal mining industry has been written about before, but often in conjunction with the social and political impact of the strike on those areas in which collieries have been closed over the past 35 years.

The Beginning of the End of Coal Mining

The truth of it is that the mining strike of 84-85 cemented the “beginning of the end” for the UK coal mining industry. Over 30 coal mines supplying the UK once stood across England; today, only three collieries remain, with Britain relying more on other forms of energy to power their homes and workplaces.

The mining industry has evolved over the last 35 years. While there has been a decline in the demand for coal as the UK looks to other forms of energy to fuel their homes, coal mining continues in various forms across the UK.

The leading style of mining in today’s coal industry is not shaft, as it was 35 years ago, but surface. Taking place at depths of 50 – 100 metres, surface coal mines recover shallow coal deposits from the ground through removal using excavators and dump-trucks.

There is some opposition to surface and opencast mining, many believe that the practice disrupts communities, causes property prices to drop, and creates eyesores in otherwise untouched countryside. However there are some advantages to this method of mining as opposed to traditional shaft mining. Opencast mines are, on average, cheaper to operate – less manpower and equipment is required to run a site. This, in turn, increases safety, eliminating risk of workers being put into potentially dangerous working conditions in confined spaces.

Another advantage of open-cast mining is that most sites are restored following the extraction process. Restoration projects usually take form of new nature reserves, parks, or residential areas.

A Shift in Tools

In addition, the past 30 years have seen a shift in not only the way in which materials are mined, but in the tools used in the UK coal mining industry. We are at a period in history in which increased urbanization and world developments are putting a demand on the amount of minerals and coal that are needed. As such, the machines of the mining industry have evolved alongside these developments.

In 2018, CAT launched the CAT D11 Dozer. This promises higher machine uptime and lower cost of ownership over the lifetime of the machine. The Dozer, operating at a weight of 104 tonnes, makes use of technology to boost the efficiency of the machine. CAT’s AutoCarry feature automatically changes the blade position to keep track slip at a minimum. Auto Ripper Control reduces operator fatigue and supposedly decreases machine wear.

The UK Mining Giants Banks Group updated their HGV fleet, investing £650,000 in six regionally sourced Volvo FM trucks. The Volvo FMs purchased by Banks Group, used to transport coal being mined at Banks’ Shotton, Brenkley Lane, and Bradley surface mines, conform with the latest Euro VI legislation. This investment cements the Banks Group’s efforts to increase environmental awareness in the UK coal mining industry.

Plant Director Robbie Bentham commented:

‘We take our environmental responsibilities extremely seriously, and this investment will maximise the emissions reductions that we’re about to get from our fleet. The UK still requires coal as an essential raw material for our cement, steel manufacting and other industries, and meeting this demand by using coal that is responsibly mined and transported from our operations, rather than increasing our already substantial reliance on imports from distant overseas locations such as Russia and the US, helps to further minimise related emissions’

Robbie Bentham, Banks Group

The Ongoing Question of Coal Mining

However, one question remains: With UK industries geared towards a cleaner, greener, future, where does the UK coal mining industry stand in 2019?

The answer to this lies in the words of Bentham: For the UK mining industry to survive, emphasis must be placed on minimising emissions and environmental impact.

For more opinions from our editors read the latest issue of Plant Planet Magazine.

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