Collection

Metal mine water treatment

The Water and Abandoned Metal Mines programme aims to tackle the water pollution caused by historic metal mining.

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 tourism.

In England, this metal mine pollution affects around 1,500km of rivers.

Today, mine operators have to comply with all current legislation; meaning they cannot allow mine water to pollute rivers, streams, lakes or groundwater. They’re also responsible for the costs of cleaning up any pollution that occurs once mining operations have ceased.

However, most mines were abandoned many decades ago, before the current laws came into place.

Historic metal mining legacies

Until 31 December 1999, mine operators could abandon a mine without notifying anyone and disregard any responsibility for allowing contaminated water to enter into waterways.

The operators could be found guilty of causing pollution, but due to the complexities of historic mining, underground connections and mine ownership, it was difficult to prove that the act of abandoning a mine caused the pollution.

That is why the government set up the Water and Abandoned Metal Mines programme, providing funds to the Coal Authority and the Environment Agency to clean up pollution caused by historic metal mining.

Water and Abandoned Metal Mines programme

The Water and Abandoned Metal Mines programme will target the most heavily impacted watercourses.

The first scheme in this programme was developed at Force Crag in the Lake District National Park and has been operational since 2014.

Our aim is to achieve:

  • cleaner rivers for current and future generations
  • more wildlife for people to enjoy
  • more tourism and opportunities for industry which rely on clean rivers
  • writing the next chapter in the mining story

Areas affected by historic metal mining

Northumbria river basin

Abandoned metal mines affect up to 9% of waterbodies in this district, equalling up to 350km of watercourse.

This includes the:

  • River Tyne
  • River Tees
  • River Wear

Investigations are underway or planned for most of the rivers affected by metal mines.

One mine water treatment scheme has been completed at Saltburn Gill and the feasibility of building measures that provide environmental and economic benefits will be investigated during the second River Basin Management Planning Cycle: 2015 to 2021.

Proposals for metal mine water treatment schemes in this area inlcude:

See all the Northumbrian river basin documents.

North West river basin

Abandoned metal mines affect up to 3% of waterbodies in this district, equalling up to 130km of watercourse.

This includes the:

  • River Derwent
  • River Kent
  • River Leven

Investigations are underway or planned for most of the rivers affected by metal mines.

One mine water treatment scheme has been completed at Force Crag in the Lake District. This was the UK’s first passive treatment scheme for an abandoned metal mine and began operating in March 2014. The feasibility of building measures that provide environmental and economic benefits will be investigated during the second River Basin Management Planning Cycle: 2015 to 2021.

See all the North West river basin documents.

South West river basin

Abandoned metal mines affect up to 5% of waterbodies in this district. Up to 450km of watercourse suffers from pollution and investigations are underway or planned for most of the rivers affected by historic metal mining.

This includes the:

  • River Teign
  • River Seaton
  • River Fal

An existing measure to deal with pollution from metal mines is at the former Wheal Jane tin mine. This was implemented after an uncontrolled release of an estimated 50,000m3 of acidic metal-rich water over a 24 hour period in 1992, which caused significant pollution of the Carnon River and Fal Estuary.

The feasibility of building measures that provide environmental and economic benefits will be investigated during the second River Basin Management Planning Cycle: 2015 to 2021.

See all the South West river basin documents.

Humber river basin

Abandoned metal mines affect up to 520km of watercourse in this area.

This includes the:

  • River Swale
  • River Nidd

Investigations are underway or planned for most of the rivers affected by metal mines.

The feasibility of building measures that provide environmental and economic benefits will be investigated during the second River Basin Management Planning Cycle: 2015 to 2021, particularly in the Swale and Nidd catchments.

See all the Humber river basin documents.

Solway Tweed river basin

Although pollution from abandoned metal mines is not a significant water management issue across the Solway Tweed river basin district as a whole, in places it is an important local issue.

Abandoned metal mines pollute about 60km of watercourse in this area and investigations are planned for most of these rivers.

See all the Solway Tweed river basin documents.

Severn river basin

Although pollution from abandoned metal mines is not a significant water management issue across the River Severn river basin district, in places it is an important local issue.

Up to 79km of watercourse is affected by pollution and investigations are underway or planned for most of the rivers affected by metal mines.

The feasibility of building measures that provide environmental and economic benefits will be investigated during the second River Basin Management Planning Cycle: 2015 to 2021.

See all the Severn river basin documents.

Available data

The Environment Agency has published information on mining wastes and pollution arising from abandoned metal mines in England at http://data.gov.uk.

Metal mine water treatment schemes

  1. Barneycraig mine water treatment scheme

    • Promotional material
  2. Caplecleugh and Rampgill mine water treatment scheme

    • Promotional material
  3. Haggs mine water treatment scheme

    • Promotional material
Published 24 October 2016