Improving Metal Mining’s Toxic Legacy
Metal mines played a major part in Britain’s history but abandoned mines now pollute our rivers, harm aquatic life and have an adverse impact on the economy. In England, this metal mine pollution affects around 1,500km of rivers – 330km in the North East alone. Metal mines are found right in the top end of the catchment meaning that the sediment (containing lead, zinc and cadmium, which are highly toxic in freshwater environments) flows all the way downstream.
Tyne Rivers Trust have delivered work as part of the Water and Abandoned Metal Mines (WAMM) Programme which tackles water pollution caused by historical metal mining across England. Specifically, we’ve been working to tackle the remains of metal mining in the Pennines which still pollutes the river today. The metal mines date back to the 1800s but due to the unstable nature of spoil heaps, metal rich sediment still finds its way into the river, unbalancing its natural ecology. Working with the Coal Authority and the Environment Agency we’re using green engineering methods to reduce the amount of sediment that enters the river. Green engineering uses natural materials such as log barriers and Geo Coir matting to catch sediment and stabilise the spoil heaps.
And if the job wasn’t complex enough, Calaminarian grassland plants – such as alpine penny-cress – actually flourish in the metal polluted soil and it is our job to protect them too.
Work has been completed in July 2023 to reduce metal pollution from the former Whitesike and Bentyfield lead mines near Garrigill, Cumbria. The riverbank along the Garrigill Burn was eroding into the watercourse, contributing metal rich sediment and polluting the river.
Stone that had collapsed into the river along with suitable imported stone has been used to rebuild the stone embankments that were installed along the Garrigill Burn by miners in the 1800s. The repairs which were started in April 2023, will stop the river from eroding bankside soils that contain very high concentrations of metals like lead, cadmium and zinc.
Additional work to decrease erosion of metal contaminated soils into the river by slowing the flow of water across the landscape have also been installed, including leaky dams, drainage pipes and a rock ramp. Repairs have also been completed to the damaged footpath along the north bank of Garrigill Burn, creating a safe surface for walkers. The work took around 12 weeks to complete and to help keep our workers and the public safe, we had to close some public footpaths in the area. These paths are now open again and we appreciate your patience whilst the closures were in place.
For a step by step walk through the process, view our interactive Story Map here.
If you live locally, or plan a visit to the site please do share your photos and videos on social media with us. Tag us @TyneRiversTrust on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the works completed.