Mining in the United Kingdom

Mining in the United Kingdom produces a wide variety of mineral fuels, metals, and industrial minerals. In 2006, there were over 2200 active mines, quarries, and offshore drilling sites on the continental land mass of the United Kingdom.[1]


Brief history

The United Kingdom has a rich history of mining. There is evidence that mining took place in Wales during the Bronze Age, in approximately 2200-850 BC[2]. Metalworking debris found beneath the ramparts at Beeston Castle located in Beeston, Cheshire, England is evidence of bronze production during the Bronze Age[3].

Later, lead and copper attracted the Romans to Britain, and in the 15th century they erected a lead smelter at Flint in northern Wales [4]. The Romans introduced iron tools and used local slaves to mine galena, an important lead ore mineral, from which they refined lead, tin, and silver. These metals were used locally and also transported by ship throughout the Roman Empire. Galena was mined from deep mines located in Scotland and Wales. Lead, tin, and aluminum were then refined from galena.

The widespread availability of coal and iron was a significant factor in Europe’s Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Although coal and iron ore are no longer mined in significant quantities in the United Kingdom, they were once mined in large quantities throughout the United Kingdom and utilized for steel and energy production. With large quantities of important minerals available and easily accessible, the United Kingdom’s economy grew rapidly.

Mineral Fuels

The United Kingdom still has large reserves of available mineral fuels. Natural gas, oil, and coal are all produced in the United Kingdom. Coal is mined from many areas in the United Kingdom from both deep mines and surface mines. In addition to the coal being mined on land, large reserves of oil and natural gas are being tapped in the North Sea.

Natural Gas

The United Kingdom is the fourth largest producer of natural gas in the world, after Russia, the United States, and Canada. Natural gas reserves are concentrated in the following three areas: 1) associated fields in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf; 2) non-associated fields in the Southern Gas Basin, located adjacent to the Dutch sector of the North Sea; and 3) non-associated fields in the Irish Sea[5].


The United Kingdom has an estimated 780 million tonnes of proved and probable oil reserves; most of these oil reserves are located on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf in the North Sea off the eastern coast of the United Kingdom. There are also sizable reserves in the North Sea north of the Shetland Islands, with smaller fields in the North Atlantic. Located in Dorset, the Wytch Farm field is the largest onshore oilfield in Europe[6] with estimated recoverable reserves of 480 million barrels of crude oil [5].


In 2007, 16,309,730 tonnes of coal were produced in the United Kingdom [7]. In the United Kingdom coal is mined from both deep mines and surface mines. The majority of coal produced in England comes from underground mines, in Scotland most coal is mined from open-pit mines.

UK Coal is the United Kingdom’s largest coal mining company, producing approximately 8.7 million tonnes of coal annually from deep mines and surface mines, and possesses estimated reserves in excess of 200 million tonnes of coal[8]. Total proved coal reserves in the United Kingdom are estimated at 220 million tonnes, although possible reserves could exceed 1 billion tonnes[9].


Metal production in the United Kingdom has decreased over the past century. Iron and copper are no longer mined in significant quantities in the United Kingdom due to the effects of globalization. Copper from Chile and North America, and iron ore from China, Brazil and Australia are higher grades of metals at lower costs, lowering demand from the United Kingdom’s copper and iron ore mines. Although large reserves of iron ore and copper are found in the United Kingdom, copper and iron ore are now largely imported from other countries[10].

Tin and lead is still being mined from deep mines located in England, Scotland and Wales. Silver is also mined in small quantities from deep mines and separated from lead ore. The United Kingdom has a large variety of important metals, but little metal is currently being mined in the United Kingdom.

Industrial Minerals

Many types of industrial minerals are found in the United Kingdom. The most common industrial minerals are sand, gravel, and cement used in construction products and road building. With 80 quarries, Tarmac is the United Kingdom’s largest producer of crushed rock, sand, and gravel [11].

There are many slate mines in the United Kingdom producing slate that is used for building and architectural purposes. The largest slate mine is the Delabole Slate Mine, located on the North Coast of Cornwall near Delabole[12]. Slate quarries are located throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom also has an abundance of specialized minerals such as China clay, used in fine china and porcelain, and Fuller’s earth, an absorbent mineral used for spill containment and cleaning supplies.


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