Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Druridge Bay - Banks Mining Plans

Yesterday's announcement by Banks Mining that it hopes to create a large opencast mine in the area between Warkworth Lane Ponds and Widdrington village should not really come as any surprise locally, the cycle of opencast and restoration has been happening as long as I can remember.

I imagine most locals interested in birds/nature probably had the same gut reaction as me, a groan and the thought 'why there, why not **** off somewhere else?' I wasn't able to watch the news yesterday so I've waited until today and had a shufty on Iplayer at last night's Look North as well as reading the Journal article linked to above and had a browse on Banks own website.

Banks Mining need to be applauded for their 'launch' of this project, Northumberland Tourism offered a neutral response as did local Northumberland county councillor Scott Robinson. I'd suggest that the response from Northumberland Wildlife Trust would be best described as mildly positive, with Chief executive Mike Pratt highlighting how many of the current Druridge Bay reserves came as the result of mining of one form or another. Not a sniff of opposition apart from a couple of bemused looking visitors accosted in the country park by the BBC.

I remember writing a letter of protest to the local paper as a schoolkid about the proposed nuclear power station in Druridge Bay. Spurred on by my English teacher who happened to live in Widdrington village it was very much a nimby response in hindsight. I'm trying not to react in the same vein to this proposal.

However I'm not convinced of the benefits and I'm not convinced that the 'more jam tomorrow' argument is going to convince me either. Let's put to one side the weighty subject of whether we should all be objecting simply because it's coal for now, though if you want to see a different viewpoint to the economic riches that Banks are promising see here.

There are without question benefits to this kind of project when viewed on a big timescale, perhaps one measured in decades. Without the restoration of East Chevington would we have breeding Marsh Harriers? Would there be anywhere else in the county that you could happily spend a day listening to people trying to tape lure Bearded Tits? Probably not and there are a whole host of commoner species that have benefited in the last decade and some great rarities that have provided much enjoyment for many.

My problem is admittedly more selfish, I'm not sure I want to wait the thirty years before the site gets restored to something that will be 'productive' in wildlife terms. That'll make me about 77 or so, perhaps just getting beyond the point of being able to enjoy it. For others active in the area it might push them into their Eighties or Nineties. So maybe it's for the kids? I think childhood is important, the places you go, the landscapes you occupy leave a lasting impression, at least they did with me. Will the sun slowly setting over the baffle banks stretching off into the horizon provide the same iconic view for my kids as today's vista to the Cheviots?

And what of the wildlife that is there now? What impact will there be on the many thousands of Pink-feet that graze the area in the winter, will they move to other sites faced with a barren landscape? Will we lose them for decades to come? The Long-eared Owls and Grey Herons that have occupied the shelter belts, the Yellow Wagtails that cling on to one of the few coastal areas with cows? I'm not convinced the area needs 'regeneration' in wildlife terms. Sure there are bound to be wins down the line but is the loss of access, the loss of view and the loss of habitat now and for the next 20-30 years a price worth paying?

I also think its important to keep an eye on track record too and Banks have a mixed record when it comes to restoration, less than a mile up the road the former Pegswood Moor opencast  is still not fully restored and benefits to local people not yet realised fully amid continued wrangling by Banks and a county council that seem incapable of forcing them to deliver on their obligations. It's also probably worth keeping one eye on what proposals come forward to avoid a Scottish Coal debacle too, I'd suggest given what has happened up there it is in the public interest for these discussions and agreements to be made public ahead of any decision on a planning application.


Andrew Hodson said...

You raise a number of important issues and demonstrate how difficult it is to find ‘the right answer’.
There are many examples of former mineral and sand extraction sites that have become significant wildlife sites; equally, as you point out, there are sites that remain in a neglected state.
In my native Lincolnshire there are extraction sites that have enabled the Wildlife Trust to reproduce fen and heath habitats previously lost to intensive agriculture. At the same time there are species that have benefitted from our largely man made agricultural landscape, that can lose out when large scale extraction occurs. There are bizarre sites, such as Covenham Reservoir, an uninspiring concrete bowl rising up from an otherwise flat landscape, which provides a haven for waterfowl.
The primary issue seems to me to be whether we can plan both to mitigate the negative consequences of such developments and then ensure that a long term plan exists for development of the sites after their commercial life. We also need to recognise other legitimate claims to open water as a recreational area for anything from fishing to speedboats.
I strongly support your point about the Pink Feet. They are an important link for me between my native and adopted homelands. Perhaps a part of this development could be to ensure provision of undisturbed grazing habitat nearby to existing favoured sites that may be disturbed.
Inevitably, proper planning for redevelopment needs to be backed by funding. Much has been said about Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s limited ability to resource the proper management of some of its existing coastal sites. If the planned development goes ahead we may, some years from now, have a series of associated habitats that will need the greater financial clout of such as the RSPB to provide effective management.
I suspect that this discussion will run for some time.

Lindy Looe said...

I am a resident of Widdrington Station and am appalled about Banks wanting to mine so close to Druridge Bay beach. The site will be the largest opencast in the UK and will last for 10-15yrs then a number of year after just to put things right. I use the beach every single day with my dogs. I can look from the sand dunes right over to the windturbines at Lynemouth and the view is lovely - though will be no more should this planning go ahead. There are a large number of spruce trees where I have seen red squirrels which will all be destroyed. Apart from the pollution, noise and extra wagons on the road my main concern is the devastation to the countryside and its wildlife. The area of Druridge Bay was formed because of opencasting however we don't require more "nature reserves". There are already plenty and quite often I find places like Druridge Bay Country Park whilst really nice does not help the wildlife as much as private agricultural land as there are constantly people & dogs in and out the woodland and area of the park. Why also do we need more coal. The local Power Station at Lynemouth is changing over to biomass as is several other power stations in Britain. Like you Alan I am selfish - I don't want to have to pass this eyesore for the next 20yrs. I want to see the wildlife in the area now as I do now. Last and not least is my beloved geese. I am in awe of the sight of these beautiful birds the noise they make has been funning out several times a day as they pass over my house in October. I dread to think they would move on because of the opencast. Bank is in it for one reason only and that is to make money. They pay off the locals with handouts for local community schemes and the locals seem to think it will save jobs. I think the Blue Sky project based on tourism for the local area is the way to go in this area and Banks should get lost.

Seaside Observers said...

Think you've said it all...and I'm being totally selfish by hoping against hope that NCC see past the £ signs and send banks mining packing