Mine Rehabilitation and Closure - can we learn anything from a World Heritage Site and the fastest zip line in the world?

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Can we learn anything from a World Heritage Site and the fastest zip line in the world?

After a recent visit to heritage sites in Wales, Katina De Sousa (Astron’s Rehabilitation Principal Scientist) ponders whether we have anything to learn from historic mine sites. In this final article in the series the Blaenavon World Heritage site and the world’s fastest zip line are discussed. Previous articles focussed on the Bronze Age Great Orme copper mine and Roman Dolaucothi gold mine. 

On the back of huge resources of coal, lime, iron ore, slate and water, Wales became the first industrialised country in the world. However, by the end of the 20th century the mining industry in Wales had all but vanished. Although some local communities are struggling to deal with the impacts associated with the loss of the financial benefits associated with mining, it is not all bad news. Wales has several examples of positive re-use post-mining.  

At the coal mining town of Blaenavon, the Blaenavon Project was formed in 1996 with the aim of developing the area into a tourist attraction. In 2000, the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape was recognised as a World Heritage Site which incorporates:

  • Big Pit: National Mining Museum where people can learn about coal mining and take a tour of the underground mine, which has been left as it was when mining finished in 1980
  • 24 scheduled ancient monuments including the Blaenavon Ironworks
  • Heritage railway
  • Monmouthshire and Brecon canal
  • Network of walk and cycle trails to see other relicts of mineral exploitation, manufacturing, transport and settlements.

By the end of 2007, the Blaenavon World Heritage Site had catalysed the investment of £30.8 million in the area. A study on the value of the Welsh historic environment sector found that the economic benefits from this included (ECOTEC Research and Consulting Pty Ltd 2010):

  • increase in visitor numbers by 100% over five years. 
  • in 2009 the Big Pit attracted 165,696 visitors, the Blaenavon Ironworks 29,961 visitors and heritage railway 9,364 visitors. 
  • the Big Pit museum has created employment for 65 staff and the overall economic impact of the museum is £4.93 million in terms of visitor spend. 
  • stimulation of private sector investment such as the establishment of 10 new businesses
  • creation of over 100 jobs in construction annually. 

Other benefits have included the conservation and re-use of historic assets, developing skills and volunteering opportunities to preserve the historic environment and changing perceptions and increasing civic pride (ECOTEC Research and Consulting Pty Ltd 2010). 

In the Snowdonia slate mining region they have found an exciting use for old open cut mines and underground workings: While in Wales I strapped myself in for a ride on the zip line which is the longest in the northern hemisphere (1.5 kilometres long) and fastest in the world (reaching speeds up to 160 kilometres per hour) located at Bethesda. While hurtling face first towards earth I got a fantastic view of the old slate mine that the zip line is installed over (and the still operational mine next door – which shows that re-use of mining assets doesn’t necessarily have to wait until mine closure). 

At a cost of £60 per person (approximately $120) the zip lines must contribute significantly to the local economy, particularly when combined with the neighbouring zip lines located at the Llechwedd Slate Caverns (which incorporate the world’s largest fully underground zip line course). And also employ a lot of people – for my ride, my harness was put on and checked by at least six different people who were supported by a crew of receptionists, café staff, vehicle drivers, catchers (who bring you safely to earth at the end of your ride) and photographers.  

So what can we learn from Blaenavon and zip lines…. 

Not all closed mine sites can be turned into a World Heritage Site or have zip lines installed at them (though there are some areas of Australia where mining sites are located close to communities or have historical significance where these may be appropriate post-closure uses). When thinking about closure of a site we need to consider the social impacts and try to think of ways to leave a positive legacy for the community. How can we preserve mining history and heritage in a way that people can utilise and enjoy?

It can be hard and expensive to incorporate alternative uses into mining spaces at closure of the site – so during the planning and operations phases we need to think about how we can do things that will make sites more interesting/usable/attractive at closure. An example of how this could be done is Northumberlandia the Lady of the North – a human landform sculpture of a reclining lady built as part of the restoration of the adjacent Shotton surface coal mine. Although the Lady of the North was not constructed during operations, it makes you question whether we could be more creative with our waste rock dump designs to leave behind something that could be beneficial to the public.



ECOTEC Research and Consulting Pty Ltd 2010, Valuing the Welsh Historic Environment. National Museum of Wales 2005, Big Pit National Coal Museum – A Guide.


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