Find Mining expertise in United Kingdom
There are hundreds of mines in the UK, but the sector has been declining for several decades with most of the easy-to-reach minerals long since gone. Coal is the single most important mineral in the UK, employing the most people and generating the most revenues. UK Coal has the largest mining operation in the country. The world’s largest mining companies including Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto operate in the UK, mainly to co-ordinate international operations and garner investment in the capital markets.
In 2012, 17 million tonnes of coal were mined. By comparison, between 200 and 300 million tonnes of coal a year, on average, were extracted in the early 20th century.
Historically, mineral mining was a major source of employment in the UK, with metals including lead, gold and tin producing high revenues. Only small works remain operational today.
Small amounts of gold can still be found at several sites, particularly in Wales. There has been sporadic commercial mining of gold in Wales even in recent times, but with little activity in the last couple of decades. Scotgold Resources Ltd has a small operational gold mine near Tyndrum in Scotland. Gold was discovered in commercial quantities in Cornwall in 2010 by Western United Mines Ltd, which also mines tin at the same location.
Iron ore, barium sulphate, calcium sulphate, lead, gypsum and potash are also mined, but are not significant contributors to the UK economy.
Shale oil and gas reserves are currently being explored, with licenses granted for exploration at a number of sites. However, the practice is controversial.
In 2012, 6,000 people were employed in the coal industry. In the same year, 9,592 were directly employed in the quarrying industry in Britain (excluding Northern Ireland). A further 4,810 were indirectly employed. By comparison, 467,000, people were working in coal extraction in Britain in the 1870s.
There is evidence of neolithic flint mines in Britain, dating back more than 5,000 years. Grime’s Graves is an excavated site in Norfolk that is open to the public.
The bronze age (2200-850 BCE), unsurprisingly, saw bronze production begin in Britain, bronze being an alloy of copper and tin. Tin and copper were both mined in Devon and Cornwall from around 2200 BCE onwards – since the area escaped glaciation in the ice age, tin deposits were initially found on the surface. Tin was even traded with Mediterranean countries, as deposits of tin in the Middle East were dwindling. Subsequent centuries saw Devon and Cornwall’s mines go deeper and deeper, with large-scale extraction ending in 1998.
During the second century CE the Romans were mining coal at several sites in England and Wales. Some coal was even sold to mainland Europe. There is little evidence of continued coal mining after the Romans left, but coal was being traded again in the 13th century with mines being worked in England, Wales and Scotland.
The Romans also mined gold lead and copper. They refined a mineral called galena, that they found in Britain, from which lead, tin and silver could be extracted.
Britain transformed itself from an agrarian to an industrial society from the 1760s to 1830s – the world’s first industrial revolution. Coal was crucial for early mechanical inventions, which usually relied on steam – not least of all trains.
Coal mining continued to be a mainstay of the economy in Wales and parts of the north of England. By 1913, Cardiff’s port was the largest exporter of coal in the world. Throughout the 20th century, however, coal mines gradually closed, as deposits became harder to reach and mines became unprofitable. Today only a handful of coal mines are still in operation in the UK.
Limestone, dolomite, chalk, sand, flint, shale and gravel are quarried in the UK. In 2012, 56,034,000 tonnes of limestone and dolomite were extracted, along with 8,714,000 tonnes of limestone. Clay and shale were extracted at a rate of 5,497,000 tonnes a year in 2012 (figures exclude Northern Ireland).
There are approximately 160 quarries and sand pits employing around 3,800 people in Northern Ireland. In 2009, about 21 million tonnes of aggregates were extracted.
Companies can apply for an onshore or offshore petroleum licence online at the UK Oil Portal. Coal mining is licensed by the Coal Authority in England, Scotland and Wales and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI) in Northern Ireland.
Legislation that governs extractives includes the Mines and Quarries Act of 1954, the Quarries Regulations 1999, Quarries Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006, Mines and Quarries (Tips) Regulations 1971, Management and Administration of Safety and Health at Mines Regulations 1993 Approved Code of Practice, Mines (Control of Ground Movement) Regulations 1999 and Mines (Shafts and Winding) Regulations 1993.
The UK is not EITI compliant.
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