Northumberland wildlife charity severs links with mining firm

Northumberland Wildlife Trust has severed ties with a mining firm, amid pressure from campaigners opposing controversial plans to dig for coal on the outskirts of Newcastle.

By Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 01 May, 2019, 11:03
Protestors against Highthorn opencast at Druridge Bay demonstrating at Morpeth County Hall in July 2016. Picture by Jane Coltman

The Trust says it is removing the Banks Group as one of its corporate sponsors, with proposals for an opencast mine at Dewley Hill, on the city’s border with Northumberland, proving the final straw for their relationship.

It comes after Throckley residents who have formed the Defend Dewley Hill action group lobbied the charity to end its partnership with the firm, which is also behind an application to mine near Druridge Bay.

A map of the proposed Highthorn site.

Mike Pratt, the trust’s chief executive, says that they have previously worked with Banks to secure environmental benefits in some of the developer’s other projects – but they now want to ‘take a stand’.

Banks has hit back, condemning the trust’s decision as ‘short-sighted’. The County Durham-based company lodged a planning application for the Dewley Hill mine with Newcastle City Council earlier this year, and a petition opposing it already has more than 16,000 signatures.

Mr Pratt said: “The reason we are doing this is we are now looking to underline the fact that we do not approve of their constant applications and proposals for opencast coal extraction.

“We have fought and opposed the Highthorn one, which has not been decided yet. We are concerned that these things keep coming forward when all of us are very, very aware of the urgency regarding climate change.

“We are totally against coal extraction as a trust, so we cannot be associated with an organisation which keeps pushing that.”

As a corporate member, Banks would have paid up to £1,000-a-year to the charity in return for benefits including features in the trust magazine, a listing on its website, and preferential rates with in-house ecological consultants.

Mr Pratt says that Banks has not paid such a fee ‘for some time’, but is now being formally deleted from the Gosforth-based trust’s registry.

He added: “We know there will be coal mining all over the world and imports into this country for some time, but that is irrelevant. Where we can influence and have an impact is here, so we would like Banks to stop and move on like the rest of us to embrace alternative energy.

“Over the years we have done some great things with Banks. We have always looked at developing new nature areas together, but things have moved on. When that offer of new opportunities comes along with coal, we are not satisfied that we should even enter into the conversation now.

“We want to take a stand alongside the other people objecting to this application.”

Mark Dowdall, environment and community director at The Banks Group, responded: “As a significant developer of new renewable energy projects, The Banks Group is fully committed to the organised transition towards a low carbon economy, and we believe we are unique in having used revenues generated from coal mining operations to drive our successful diversification into the renewable energy sector over the last 15 years.

“We have worked successfully with the Northumberland Wildlife Trust over many years and are proud to have invested into environmental enhancement projects right across the county which simply wouldn’t have happened without our involvement.

“It is disappointing that the Trust has taken this short-sighted decision based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the implications of not using indigenous supplies to meet the UK’s continuing need for coal for a range of essential industrial and commercial processes, such as the production of steel and cement, and the production of fireclay for use in the manufacture of bricks.”

He added: “This vitally important mineral is in very short supply in the UK and Dewley Hill will provide much-needed future fireclay supply for the nearby Throckley Brickworks, which will help protect North East jobs, minimise the transportation emissions created by taking this raw material to the Brickworks and assist the national drive to build more homes across the UK.

“We will continue our commitment to make significant investments in improving the community and environmental facilities available to people in Northumberland.”

Jos Forester-Melville, of the Defend Dewley Hill group, said: “This is a real positive for our campaign and we are very grateful that the trust has shown this level of responsibility to the community and the environment.”

By Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporting Service