Today Judge Harrison found eight people guilty of obstruction of the public highway or obstruction of a police officer. All were fined and told to pay a victim surcharge varying by income level, plus court costs of £400 each.
Judge Harrison dismissed the motivations of all of the defendants. She said she believed that their beliefs were strongly held but said that the reasons for their actions were not relevant to the legality of their behaviour. The trial itself was heard at the end of October.
Robyn Clogg who lives within 300m of the opencast said, “I wrote to the council, I signed petitions, I wrote to Banks Mining Group, I demonstrated at the side of the road and supported the protest camp. I wasn’t left with any other avenue to stop this destruction but putting myself physically in the way.
It was a first offence for almost all of the people who were convicted. Additionally restraining orders were given, preventing those who were found guilty from entering the Bradley (Pont Valley) opencast or impeding the entrance to the site for twelve months.
In delivering her verdict the Judge said, “during the course of the trial I’ve permitted myself a wry smile, it was historically interesting that in the mid 1980s another group with strongly held beliefs similarly demonstrated and found themselves in front of the courts.” She clearly doesn’t know that Durham Miners Association stands with Campaign to Protect Pont Valleyin its opposition to the Bradley opencast. Those who took this stand are aware of the actions of their grandfathers and have sufficient experience of the horrors of opencast coal mining to know that this devastation is not in the interest of the communities living close to the opencast and goes against the strong messages we are getting from the IPCC about the urgency of climate change.
Picture from the mass action at the Garzweiler coal power station in the German Rhineland in 2014. credits to Marco Kühne.
To supply European countries in energy, a large amount of coal is imported from abroad, as the coal is often cheaper. In Europe, the imports from Russia account for 30.4%, from Colombia 23.7 % and Australia 11.5 % in 2015. The UK is the country that imports the second largest amount of coal, after Germany. From all the coal we burn, 30% comes from Russia, 23% from Colombia and 16% from the USA. But what is the story behind all this coal that enables us to live the way we live?
Coal extraction, wherever it takes place, has very negative impacts on both the local communities and ecology, but also the planet as a whole with the release of methane and carbon dioxide, greenhouse gases that are released in the atmosphere . More about opencast mining here. However, the impacts are far deeper than that.
The coal industry is backed by powerful corporations that operate with impunity, disregarding the few environmental regulations in place and severely damaging the human rights of local communities. Companies often do not pay reparations to compensate or at least relieve the cost of coal, that is, giving a monetary value to the lives and ecosystems that are destroyed. This means that multinationals are free to continue destroying the people and planet with nothing to stop them.
In Europe, RWE and other mining companies are required to offset the environmental damages they cause: for the destruction of a 12.000 years old pristine forest with a unique ecosystem and many protected species, RWE is required to plant an artificially biodiverse forest close by, only to ensure that the carbon that should have been capture by the forest will still be capture with the new woodland. No talk of all the emissions caused by the extraction and burning of coal. No talk about the protection of ecosystems that are priceless and irreblaceable.
In Colombia, the lands are seized without consultation and indigenous communities who have lived there for hundreds of years are forcefully displaced off from their homes to make way for gigantic opencast mines, where are extracted billions of tons of coal. You can imagine the size of these holes, and the amount of dust in the air… and this impacts the local communities and species living in these regions, as the water is polluted with chemicals and oil, the dust ends up in the ground and the crops, there is acid rain due to the explosion of dynamite and people suffer from aggravated respiratory diseases. Coal is physically destroying the living conditions in this region. The landscape is tuned upside down with massive mountains chains created from the waste from digging up the ground.
95% of this coal is exported to western countries. Not only do the opencast mines destroy the land, hurt the communities and damage the environment, locals do not receive anything in return, neither electricity nor reparations for the disasters caused. The mining companies are contracted by energy giants like BHP (the world’s largest mining company, read more about the impacts of BHP here with a testimony from a woman from an indigenous community in Colombia), Anglo American (a British multinational, largest producer of platinum), Glencore (an Anglo-swiss multinational that ranked twelfth in the Fortune Global 500 list of the world’s largest companies).
Not only do these energy giants hold great power as money enables them to bypass regulations and court cases, they also have physical power to suppress any type of resistance. Between 1996 and 2016, more than 3 000 environmental activists and leaders of indigenous communities were killed by paramilitaries who are payed by the governments doing business with these multinationals. In such, it is a private militia defending by all necessary means the interests and profits of large corporations.
In February 2015, the UK government announced a coal-phase out by 2025. But opencast mines are still being opened, coal is being burnt and the UK government is still supporting the coal mafia. Indeed, Coal Action Network reports that between 2011 and 2016, the government underwrote £109 million in insurance to global coal projects, including Russian coal which exports coal back to UK power stations.
The UK has only the fourth largest production of electricity via renewables. Why is coal still being extracted, imported and burnt in the UK when the money could be invested in renewable energy and people could be skilled into sustainable jobs? When so many lives and our planet could be saved.
Resistance in Colombia is organized between indigenous communities, social organisations, students and NGOs. They protect the rivers by cleaning them, they organise farming autonomously to regain their food sovereignty and defend the land heritage. They educate about the land and condemn corporations, but cannot take part in peaceful civil disobedience as they risk being killed. Recently, there were shootings at a peaceful demonstration, and two community leaders were killed. Let’s use our privileges and show solidarity. Let’s end coal now.
I hadn’t realised how near it would be. I hadn’t realised how loud it would be. I hadn’t realised how dusty and emotionally disturbing it would be. I think that’s because I hadn’t believed it would ever happen.
Twenty five years after moving to High Stables, and after twenty five years of writing letters and speaking at public inquiries the worst has happened. I’d feared the worst but trusted in justice and the good judgment of those with power. How could the landscape we argued to be valuable be destroyed? After a government appointed inspector had said, leave this valley and this community in peace, after our elected councilors had rejected planning application three times, how could this operation go ahead?
Early in January 2018 a hand delivered letter informed me of Banks Mining’s intentions to commence open casting the Pont Valley. Now after seven months of intense activism which succeeded on preventing the mining company from meeting the planning deadline of 3rd June, somehow the operations are going ahead. Banks are ripping up this beautiful valley. The population of rare Great Crested Newts has been killed, their habitat is a dry wasteland. Dust rises from the excavators and trucks ferry subsoil to huge mounds.
Every day I’m busy. Busy challenging, busy recording, busy supporting my friends and neighbours who are also devasted that this is happening. But we are defiant too and determined to hold Banks to account. We’ve learned that our valley is integrally linked to wider resistance to the use of fossil fuels and to combatting the effects of global climate change.
The shape of the hillside I’ve looked at from the bottom of my garden for 25 years has changed. The fields and footpaths I walked on have gone. Banks will replace the incredibly diverse flora with five types of grass seed and say they’ve given us a parkland, that’s if the top soil survives being stored in mounds for three years.
Since that letter arrived in January, I’ve met the most amazing, gentle, dedicated, intelligent people. My connections with neighbours, old friends and new, have grown exponentially as we’ve shared experiences on the ‘front line’ while our sons and daughters have taken part in direct action. I take solace from knowing that we’ve punched a big hole in the profit Banks anticipated to steal from our valley, and knowing that we’ve punched a big hole in the profit Banks anticipated to steal from our valley, and knowing that in so, so, many ways, I’m richer than Harry Banks.
once upon a late winter day, over several hills and many valleys, there was a curlew. this large, rotund brown bird with its long thin beak had a flea. and that flea told me about what had happened at this valley in the north east of england.
the flea told me the clouds were heavy and full of ice, they swept slowly over the skies and sighed out with waves of snow, falling most days.
you could find tracks from many animals in this valley; hares and badgers and deer. there wasnt often many people in these valleys in the cold winter months, although you would get people walking with their dog friends, a few regulars who would scrutinise particular plants and trees and seemed to look for secrets the land might tell them, and some familiar faces that the curlew had seen over several decades. for 30 years the valley had had planning applications for opencast mining but each time it got rejected.
then some people with high vis and suits and neat haircuts (or no hair) had come to check it out. they had been before, since 2014, a couple of times, but never done much work. just mooched around with clipboards. this winter, just before spring, in several feet of snow they came and cut down all the old hawthorn trees that had been living for over a hundred years. they left the trees petrified in the cold with their roots displayed to the grey sun.
then lots more humans appeared. they brought wood from the forest and built benders. they burnt wood to keep warm. they started climbing this tree that had been too big to cut down with the hawthorns and building something up there.
then weeks passed. structures would pop up and sometimes down. there was a mass move to the other side of the barbed wire fence, from the valley to the grass verge of the A692. what was a few angry insults yelled each day became quite a frequent chorus to both the days and nights. more and more people would come to the camp in ebbs and flows. lots of cars would stop and drop off hot food, or palletts, or crates of beer.
since mid march, there were bucket traps put in the ground to try and trap a great crested newt, a protected species under EU law. for a month, many smooth newts waltzed into the wall and fell into the buckets, but carol the great crested newt appeared on april 17th. the humans were joyous.
2 days later, it was the hottest and sunniest day of the year so far, where it seemed suddenly winter had receeded and spring – which had barely appeared – had already melted away. lots of middle aged men in high vis and hard hats trundled along the valley at the early call of 6.20am and began shouting. it was an eviction. the humans who had lived in the valley and on the verge for 6 weeks took up their positions and were pressure pointed and shouted at by the lumbering bailiffs. the high vis wearers tried to pull them out of lock ons and intimidate them. a few police humans stood around watching all day but did little else. “have you seen many lock ons before?” said a human clipped onto a wheelie bin full of concrete and surprises. “a what?” said the man in hi vis. “a lock on. you know, this thing we’re clipped onto.” // “no… i’ve never seen one of these things before.” and then they kept at it with the power tools they use in their usual day jobs.
all the while, diggers were driven through the camp, a couple of metres from tunnels with people inside, and one digging machine was even used to pull out a lock-on that had been semi submersed into the ground… with someones arm, and the rest of their body, still attached to it.
the wooden structures that had shared many stories and conversations and dreams and a few arguments and lots of vegan scran and a few repairs over the weeks were destroyed within a few hours by the machines.
after 2 days, the last human was taken out of the treehouse, and this concluded the eviction. 3 people had escaped in the night under the careful watch of security, and 7 had been arrested.
after this point, more and more machines and shipping containers and fences were brought onto the valley and humans in uniforms patrolled day and night.
at the gates, lock-ons started re-appearing. sometimes the security would try and drag them away. police humans mostly seemed quite confused by these devices. they werent sure what to do and mostly waited for the people to unlock. in early june they called some fire personnel to use their hi-tech equipment to cut them out. it seemed the specialist cutting teams would not come to this place and instead the local authoritative humans blamed the people in lock ons for the use of resources by authoritative humans to protect the ecocide in the valley.
after june 3rd, and after a 22 hour lock on, banks mining company had failed to build their access road, a requirement of their planning permission. they had started stripping the soil anyway and commencing the degradation of the living parts of the land. the pond home to carol and many other newts was drained and then destroyed in may. the swathes of gorse and several old trees are gone. no ground nesting birds can live there anymore, and the curlews have had to find somewhere else to live or die. now the ground has all been turned upside down, their diggers guard the haul and they are piling up the coal they have dug up and waiting to take it away to burn.
We did it! We shut down the two newest opencasts mines in the UK!
Over the 5 days of Coal Nee More camp, around 150 individuals from across the UK came to Pont Valley to show their support to the local community that has been fighting opencast coal at their doorstep.
On Saturday, 50 climate activists and local residents took direct action at the Bradley site at Pont Valley and Fieldhouse opencast close to Pittington on Saturday 8th of September to make clear: opencasts are our past, not our future.
The Bradley site was shut down for half a day of work and the biggest digger from the Fieldhouse opencast site owned by Hargreaves was also occupied to stop work! For that day, no coal was dug up to be burnt. And no one arrested!
We were dressed in red representing the red line for the climate that is being crossed with the continued reliance on fossil fuel extraction. Our banners reading “Save Druridge Bay” and “Coal Nee More” show opposition to other proposed new mines in the North East of England. We also stood in solidarity with Hambi struggle: as this action took place, police started evicting activists from +50 trees houses built to protect the 12000 years-old Hambach forest in Germany. RWE has been clearing some 80 hectares every year to make way for the coal that lies underneath. more about the Hambach Forest here
One activist locked-on at Fieldhouse said: “We’ve come to Hargreaves opencast today and took direct action to challenge the fossil fuel industry. We stand in solidarity with the locals and protectors at Pont Valley, also in County Durham, and those on front lines fighting the fossil fuel industry across the world”
June Davison, local resident who has been fighting against opencast applications for the last 30 years in Pont Valley, says: “Banks’ Bradley site is on my doorstep and I empathise with other communities currently being affected by, or under threat from, opencast coal extraction. It’s a noisy, dirty industry that destroys whole ecosystems that can never be replaced. You can’t ‘restore’ hundred-year-old hawthorn hedges, not in a lifetime.
I know that there has also been opposition to another new opencast over in east of County Durham, near Pittington. I plan to do everything I can to make sure this and Bradley are the last ever opencast coal operations in this country. Banks Mining’s applications to destroy Dewley Hill in Newcastle and Druridge Bay in Northumberland cannot be allowed to go ahead. It makes no sense and damages the environment and local communities.
More sustainable jobs can be created by using the land for leisure and tourism, than the very few temporary jobs opencast coal provides. In fact, the latest quarterly figures from the Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES Report) show that only 114 people work in opencast coal extraction in the whole of England. We know mining companies exaggerate employment figures to make people think they are bringing benefits to an area when in fact they simply move employees from one site to another.”
Stephen Guy, from the Sherburn Labour Party and West Rainton/ Pittington against Opencast, present today:
“For years, along with many other former coal miners and in accordance with NUM policy, I have campaigned against Opencast Mining. This form of coal extraction is damaging to our environment and communities. It is tantamount to vandalism in pursuit of profit. It is shameful that central government purport to value localism yet their Inspectors and the Secretary of state ignore local people during consultations and elected Councillors who make planning decisions which, as we have witnessed twice in County Durham on recent times, are overulled at Public Inquries.
It was a proud moment today to join local residents on Pont Valley to protest and to demonstrate that people from County Durham really do value the beautful countryside and our communities. Our villages are far too important to us not to fight. We will not lie down and allow companies to profit at our expense.”
The action coincides with a global day of action against fossil fuels and climate change. Thousands of people across the planet mobilised under the #riseforclimate banner for a possible and fair future.
Sara James, a member of the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley says “although opencast mining has started in Pont Valley, we are rising because we will not accept being ignored by Banks Group and the government. Since Banks started work at Pont Valley, from the Beast of the East to a global fatal heatwave, it is ever so clear that coal combustion has a direct contribution to catastrophic events around the world. We stand united and take action to demand an immediate end to coal extraction, and ecological destruction, in the UK and abroad.”
Kristian’s pictures of the Coal Nee More camp here
In PnR, the Council rejected fracking plans back in 2015, but the national government overturned this decision, and granted permission to Cuadrilla to construct the largest fracking development in the UK. The company has already constructed an access road and a large frac pad on fields north of Preston New Road and are now drilling two horizontal shale wells. The PnR site only provides 11 jobs.
Several Pont Valley protectors went down to PnR to support the local community resisting fracking. People from far and wide gathered as part of a three month-long period of United Resistance where many actions took place to delay work and prevent machinery from accessing or exiting the site.
Here’s a testimony:
My visit to Preston New Road (PnR) on 28 June was moving and informative. I visited for Block Around the Clock and met up with diverse group of people who’d come together in resistance and celebration. Resisting the dangerous development of fracking and celebrating solidarity and the strength that comes from a common and just cause. I danced, sang, listened to stories, shared tasty food and learned about how to stand up to power. The event was brilliantly organized with a nonstop programme of activities from hoola hooping to ballroom dancing.
Police presence was low to say the least, with only three relaxed, smiley Police/Protest Liaison Officers, though I know there has been extreme and violent police practice at PnR.
It occurred to me that we are twinned with anti-fracking protests; the only thing that separates us is our geology. In the Pont Valley our geology features sandstone which needs to be dynamited to access coal. In North Yorkshire, Lancashire and other areas threatened by fracking, rock can be split open with pressurised water to release gas. Both methods exploit the natural environment, the land beneath our feet and exploit and damage the communities living nearby.
I returned home energized and invigorated, having made new friends and comrades. Thanks Pont Valley Protectors for encouraging me to visit. Anyone who’s thinking about visiting an anti-fracking site, just go for it, you will be welcomed and inspired.
While the campaign to Protect Pont Valley has been largely centered around keeping coal in the ground, we side with all the anti-fracking campaigns that are growing in the country to stop this industry that has the potential to bring us further into the climate collapse and destroy our living conditions forever. While the government has promised a coal phase out to meet its carbon target, this has happened with the backing of another era of fossil fuels, namely the extraction of gas and oil from the ground. But this does not come without fatal impacts both on the local environment and the future of the planet. Clearly, the government fully endorses an industry that makes profit exploiting the planet and hurting communities.
What is fracking?
The process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is basically drilling vertically down several kilometres then horizontally, casing the inside of the drilled hole in steel or cement then applying a mixture of millions of litres of water, silica, and chemicals at a super high pressure to break apart the shale rock to releas the gas (methane, ) trapped inside. Fracking around the world
Some of the known dangers:
Surface spills of contaminated water, groundwater contamination, aquifer contamination, airborne silica, toxic air pollutants, leaking methane (methane is 30 times more potent as an atmospheric heat-trapping gas than CO2), millions of litres of contaminated and radioactive fracking fluid that requires processing or is dumped, increase in number of earthquakes, and of course the effects on climate change from burning fossil fuels.
Fracking can typically use between 5-10 million gallons ( 19 million – 38 million litres) of water per well, although there are many wells in the 2-18 million gallons (8 million- 68 million litres) range. Sometimes each frack uses fresh water, sometimes it is reused, increasing the potency of contamination with heavy metals and radionuclides.
The exact contents of fracking fluid can be kept an industry secret, so we dont know for sure what chemicals are currently being used in the UK. However, there is more detailed research from the USA, due to the high number of fracking wells nationally – “as of 2016, about 670,000 of the 977,000 producing wells were hydraulically fractured and horizontally drilled”.
There is ongoing research on endocrine disrupting chemicals found in fracking fluid. Some health effects are infertility, cancer and birth defects. In one study, 24 chemicals commonly used in fracking fluids were tested. Of these 24 chemicals, 20 blocked the estrogen receptor, 17 inhibited the androgen receptor, 10 hindered the progesterone receptor, 10 blocked the glucocorticoid receptor – a hormone important to the immune system, which also plays a role in reproduction and fertility, and 7 inhibited the thyroid hormone receptor.
After a fracking well has been injected with the mixture of water, silica, and fracking chemicals at a high pressure, this fluid will then begin to draw back up to the surface – this is called ‘flowback’.
Flowback contains various heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic, radium, lead, that are extremely toxic to humans and other species of life. Radium and radon are two radioactive compounds found to be released from the shale rock during fracking which are found in flowback. Other radionuclides are also found with half lives varying from a few days to 1601 years. In flowback they can be found in quantities thousands of times higher than what is considered safe in drinking water. However, research on this is severely limited due to industry and political pressures. The transportation of flowback / wastewater to a processing facility or to dispose of it in a well creates the risk of spills across roads, land, and settlements.
Tests on groundwater near fracking wells have often contained the highest levels of heavy metals and radionuclides, but fracking companies generally do not test groundwater sources before they start working in an area, which makes it difficult to assign responsibility legally.
“For mothers living within 1 km, we find a 25% increase in the probability of low birth weight (birth weight < 2500 g / <5lb and 8oz) and significant declines in average birth weight and in an index of infant health. There are also reductions in infant health for mothers living within 1 to 3 km of a fracking site, but the estimates are about one-third to one-half of the size of those within the 0- to 1-km band. There is little evidence of health effects at further distances, suggesting that health impacts are highly local.” Some of the compounds in air emissions near fracking sites included nonmethane hydrocarbons, methylene chloride (a toxic solvent), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (known to be carcinogenic), which have been shown to affect fetal outcomes.
Air quality and threats to public health
The dangers of silica is mostly around respiratory illness as the greatest risk of this compound during the fracking process is from inhalation in close proximity to the site, so predominantly affects workers. Silica inhalation can cause lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, silicosis (scarring of the lungs) and increased risk of infections, all of which can be fatal or chronic.
There is an emerging clear link between fracking and earthquakes, but many organisations and scientists have been hesitant to draw this conclusion or study it at all. Some areas historically considered to not be earthquake prone become similar in seismic activity to places where it is considered common. e.g. Oklahoma is now similar to California. After 2 earthquakes in 2011 500m away from Preese Hall fracking site in Lancashire in the UK, the British Geological Survey considered it highly probable that the earthquakes were due to the high pressure injection of fracking fluid.
Transnational domination of land, resources, and exploitation:
The Vaca Muerta region in Patagonia, Argentina, has the world’s second largest resources of shale gas and fourth largest of shale oil. They represent an estimated 50 billion tons of CO2 currently locked in the ground. Thirty nine Mapuche indigenous communities find themselves sitting on top of the shale deposits of Vaca Muerta, alongside Argentina’s “pear capital” Allen, and several protected natural areas.
Chevron, Shell, BP, CNOOC, Wintershall, ExxonMobil, Dow Petrochemical, Petronas, Schlumberger, Statoil and Total, alongside Latin American and Argentine transnational companies Petrobras, Pluspetrol, and Tecpetrol have shares in the area.
Banks and foreign governments are also backing the drilling infrastructure, including loans from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, and private and corporate debt provided by Citibank, ICBC, and Deutsche Bank, among others.
As well as the risks of fracking mentioned above, Vaca Muerta specifically also will potentially take on ten waste dumps and oil landfills; three sand extraction mines, plus sand cleaning facilities and associated logistics; national and international pipelines; LNG plants on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans; a 700 km train line for goods transportation; expansion of petrochemicals and refineries; and new roads and highways.
The protestors were found not guilty by District Judge, Helen Cousins, due to the prosecution failing to demonstrate that Banks Mining activity at the site was lawful. Indeed, the protectors were aiming to prevent Banks group from committing a wildlife crime, the destruction of the habitat of Great Crested Newts.
This comes after a four-day long trial in which the protestors defended their actions on the basis that they were preventing Banks from carrying out unlawful activity at the Bradley site. The defendants argued that Banks would be committing a wildlife crime through the disturbance of the protected species of great crested newt and their habitat. The judge accepted that a great crested newt was found on site by the protestors, and stated that the ecologist employed by Banks had not used the appropriate methodology to confirm the absence of protected species, hence the acquittal.
One of the protectors who appeared in Court today said: “This is a victory. It proved that Banks had not taken the appropriate measures to protect the ecology of the site. However, it is bitter sweet. Brooms pond has already been destroyed and the fact that Banks are still extracting coal will only serve to further the destruction of delicate habitats and accelerate global climate change.”
Another said “Today, the legal system has deemed our actions to be legitimate as these species are protected by law. Now we need laws to safeguard ecosystems and the planet from damaging fossil fuel extraction and combustion. The struggle is far from over. Fossil fuel companies need to be held accountable for their profit driven activities that are directly responsible for climate breakdown. All fossil fuels need to be kept in the ground if we have any hope in minimising the effects of climate change.”
Protectors were facing criminal prosecution for actions that were necessary to prevent the destruction of the protected species and the onset of catastrophic climate change. At the same time, fossil fuel companies like Banks Group operate with impunity to disregard environmental law and government guidelines for reducing fossil fuel emissions. The government has announced that coal must be phased out by 2025 in the UK, yet it continues to allow coal companies to extract coal and pollute the atmosphere. As long as this continues, we must take matters into our own hands to prevent the most severe effects of global warming and biodiversity reduction.
Indeed, whilst it has come to light that Banks Group acted unlawfully in their destruction of protected species, another crime continues: coal is still being dug up and burnt – polluting the local envrionment and fuelling deadly climate breakdown. Yet as Banks Group continue their assault on people and planet, the court decided that this powerful corporation needs protection from a small group of moral, impassioned individuals. All six protectors were handed a restraining order to stay 300m away from Banks Group sites for 12 months. Restraining orders are usually implemented to protect victims of stalking, domestic violence and sexual harassment, not to protect private profit. With this direct action at Pont Valley proving to be right on both moral and legal grounds, the state responds with disproportionate protection of those causing the real damage and an attempt to silence dissent and suppress our human rights to protest and assemble. 7 additional protectors will be appearing in Court on October 30th and 31st for charges related to obstructing the highway.
There is a residual population of GCN in the Pont valley, found in various surveys by UK coal in 2014, the mining company who originally gained permission to open cast in the valley. In the planning permit, UK Coal acquired a license to translocate the great crested newts to four new ponds in 2010 in order to comply with regulations on protected species. However, the survey carried out in 2017 by the ecologist employed by Banks group failed to detect the presence of GCN using EDNA testing, a contentious form of surveying. The ecologist said he was surprised and even unsettled by the negative results.
On advice of the ecologist, Banks mining say that they assumed there were no more GCN present and decided to start work without a licence, however the ecologist also stated that he wasn’t comfortable with this assumption. GCN are however long-lived species, so if they were found at the ponds in 2014 it is highly likely that they were still there when the survey was carried out in 2017. In fact, the trial shed light on the ecologist’s flawed use of the wrong test, and against best practice and guidelines. Banks’s ecologist used EDNA testing which is not the appropriate methodology when one is dealing with a low population of GCN, and only used two samples when EDNA testing requires 20 samples.
After the protectors had found a GCN on site, Banks mining response was not satisfactory to prevent a wildlife crime. The ecologist decided to conduct more surveying of the population of GCN, using refuge method which is also inefficient compared to pitfall trapping, but was not able to detect the presence of GCN. Banks group should have carried out more work to prevent newts from being killed and their habitat destroyed.
A FOI request revealed an email between Banks and their ecologist discussing what ‘downsides’ there would be to accept that a newt had been found, and what best cause of action to take to avoid delays to the mining project. Other emails were revealed where the GCN population is referred to as a ‘constraint’ and that ‘it’s all a matter of timing.’ More alarming is that most of the emails are redacted, we wonder what Banks truly considered was the best move when they had a tight deadline to comply to in order to trigger planning permit.
The front of the site has now been heavily stripped, and the habitat of the GCN is no longer existent. Banks started draining the pond on the 18th of May, in front of the local community opposing the opencast in their valley.
Pont Valley protectors attended the first ever Polish Climate Camp, taking place between the cities Poznan and Warsaw, in a region that is highly sought after for what is in the ground: hectares deep of hard coal and lignite (‘brown coal’). The PAK Power Plant Group (Patnow-Adamow-Konin) has been exploiting the land of this region with opencast pits and polluting the air with coal power plants (including one of the most polluting in Europe).
80% of Poland’s energy resources comes from coal, including 30% from lignite. The privatisation of the coal industry has caused a loss from 15,000 to 2,000 jobs in opencast mines and coal power stations in the last years. Powerful corporations are enforcing dependence on coal as a major source of energy that is neither sustainable nor beneficial for the local community and the environment. The draining of the groundwater is not only causing colossal losses for the tourism industry with the surrounding natural lakes slowly disappearing, but also for the land farmers as their crops are destroyed and their jobs taken away.
Intent to reduce the country’s contribution to climate change are non-existant. In Poland’s Energy Policy until 2030, fossil fuels remains the largest share of energy source, with the share of renewables to reach at least 15% by 2020, and 16% by 2030, however Poland is set to miss this target (currently 12% of energy comes from renewables) whilst still planning to further invest in coal. Regulations make it difficult Poland to develop renewables as there is a lack of investment, whilst the coal industry benefits from mass subsidies. Poland is responsible for a huge contribution of green house gas in the atmosphere with over 56 coal power stations in the country, one being the most emitting power plant in Europe. Moreover, the EU is taking Poland to court for breaching air quality limits: the air is polluted with small particles, such as hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and dioxins that can enter the respiratory tract and the lungs. To lower the country’s emission of Co2 gases, the government has plans for two nuclear power plants, with the first one operational by 2029. Clearly, there is a deep collusion of corporation and government to ensure the interests of the latter over people and the planet. The prevention of climate change is not yet a priority of the government, although the country is already affected with droughts, heat and hurricane winds.
In this context was organised the first Climate Camp, gathering people from all over Poland, whether NGO’s, anarchists or local residents. An important focus of the climate camp was to put forward the various expertise of people on how to generate a ‘just transition’. But more importantly, this climate camp was about creating a climate movement that would bridge ideological or strategical differences in order to produce a stronger, broader set of alliances to demand (and enact) change.
With over 200 hundred people, we formed a red line in front of the most carbon-emitting coal power station in Europe.
After a powerful talk about the impacts of opencasting in Colombia, we stand in solidarity with those murdered in Colombia. REST IN POWER to the 18 just last week, 120 this year and over 3.000 in the last 10 years killed by the paramilitary as they enforce opencast mining on communities and defend the interest of the elites and western multinational. 95% of the coal extracted is exported to the West, this represents 23% of the coal burnt in UK power stations.
The COP24 is happening this year in Katowice, we are looking forward to creative and loud set of actions!
On Saturday 14th July 2018, The Campaign to Protect Pont Valley marched under it’s banner in the 134th miners’ gala organized by the Durham Miners Association.
Our campaign is pleased to have the support of DMA. Allan Cummings, DMA Secretary said in May 2018:
“The Durham Miners’ Association has opposed opencast mining for many decades and support the locally lead campaign to protect Pont Valley in Co. Durham. It damaged deep mining in the past and now threatens to ruin our environment for no perceivable benefit. Our communities have suffered enough with the decline of the coal industry and they do not need to have more injury added to insult. There are deep mining projects reopening in various parts of England. So, there is little need to rip up the countryside.”We have gathered reflections from some of those that marched with the Protect Pont Valley banner at the gala.
“It was great that the Miners Association backed the Pont Valley campaign to march with the coalfield banners. Generations of my family have come to walk with The Tempest banner. The sight and sound of banners and brass always chokes me. Being there with everyone, standing together, means we’re keeping the memory of our communities strong. It means we still have a touchstone on the good stuff!”
“It was an honour to be part of a tradition that celebrates and strengthens the labour movement. We all owe so much to those who fought battles to secure our rights. It was also an important reminder that while you might loose a battle, there is strength in unity. We can come together and move beyond it, for something bigger.”
“At almost every point in the campaign the right thing or the right person has come along at the right time. Taking part in the 134th Durham Miners’ Gala grew from a small seed of an idea back in March when some of us took part in a meeting of the Women’s Banner Group at the Miners’ Hall. The thought of creating our own banner and marching at the Gala felt empowering and right. It could have been a fleeting thought, but it grew and before long a banner making artist appeared at the roadside protest site, a friend of a friend. A local print company offered help, and we connected up with a local textile company. Our visual and written messages were collected and artistically interpreted to create a positive feel banner that represents and defines the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley. It’s reflective of traditional miners’ banners with a contemporary feel. The images are clear from a distance but have enough detail to make the banner engaging from close up. It depicts the threat of open cast mining in shadowy blue all around and the encircled gold framed valley, as the campaign would wish to keep protected in its natural state. The world image and the people behind indicate the impact globally of this local message. The sun rays are joy and hope. It felt amazing to be in the crowds streaming toward the riverside meeting place with new people I’d come to know and value over the last 6 months and old friends who I’d opposed the opencast with for decades. A very poignant yet proud day.”
“As a new resident in Durham it was amazing to be part of a Durham tradition and learning about the mining history. It was also wonderful to be part of the Pont Valley Protection banner as we all came together in solidarity against corporate wealth, and protection of communities which was the foundation of the north eastern miners’ struggle. A collaboration of mining past and present.”
“I have grown up attending the miners gala from a very young age, and feel privileged to have grown up with the wonderful mining heritage of the north east surrounding me. I grew up in a mining village, and come from a family with mining history. However, I was beyond proud to attend this year, and march with the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley Banner. It is a campaign very close to my heart, and a valley that holds my heart. Watching the destruction grow every time I drive home is breaking my heart. I was proud to be able to attend an event celebrating my heritage, whilst campaigning for our future as a global community. I was proud to see these two worlds collide, and I hope that the heritage of this area is not lost or forgotten, but that we learn from it, and move forward. This is an area that has lost its industry, but open cast mining is not going to bring that industry back. All it is doing is bringing short term work, when we should be investing in this region, and empowering the people around us. The mining industry isn’t coming back, but it is important that we remember it as it’s where we are from. It was a privilege to be able to attend an event so entrenched in our history with a forward-thinking movement. It’s time to move forward.”
“It was a day of sunshine, strength and solidarity as supporters of the Campaign to Protect Pont Valley gathered together to say ‘No to open cast coal’ at the ‘Big Meeting’. There were smiles, hugs and lots of laughs. We took turns to carry our magnificent banner and walked along the Durham streets with real pride. With my fellow campaigners I felt a sense of belonging and connection, not just between us, but with so many others too. People stopped me and congratulated us on the strength of our fight and commented on our banner. We still have a big battle on our hands – living next to Britain’s newest open cast mine is utterly depressing for so many reasons – but on Saturday we felt strong and resilient, powerful and united. We are still here, and joyfully we made our presence felt.”
It was a surprise and privilege to see my face on our wonderful banner. The solidarity and feeling of unity along with the brass bands made it an experience to remember. I loved the way activists and locals came to join us at different parts of the march. News and hugs were shared. Well done everyone!”
Thank you to artist Jane Gower for the terrific banner.