Abandoned UK coal mines could be given a new lease of life in years to come according to academics at the University of Nottingham. The future of these disused mine shafts could lie not in the production of coal but rather as huge underground farms used to produce fruit, vegetables and herbs.

The familiar image of disused mine shafts and the infrastructure that is synonymous with this has become a mainstay across parts of the UK where coal mining used to be the foremost industry. The vast majority of the UK’s coal mines were closed in the late 1980s and the sites have stood derelict ever since. The expanse of area that is taken up by these shafts below the surface is estimated at 150,000 abandoned shafts and 25,000km-sq of unused mines and tunnels across the UK.

The idea to transform these abandoned mines into the farms of the future has already gained support from a range of mine owners such as the Coal Authority and Land Trust. Whilst it has been mooted that these potential underground farms could provide up to ten times as much food as traditional farms.

The brains behind the idea, Professor Saffa Riffat President of the World Society of Sustainable Energy Technology and based at the University of Nottingham has paid homage to the men who worked so hard to create this underground world that is now waiting to be utilised, “I wish I had thought of this idea when they were making all the miners redundant. We may have been able to offer them an alternative job.”

One of the major draws of this idea is the fact that underground farming would not be affected by seasonal changes and extreme weather meaning these shafts would be operational all year round.

Professor Riffatt added

“You’re looking at about £30,000 to set up one shaft and the running costs are very low – less than the energy consumed by three houses each year. With natural sunlight, the costs are even less.”

The question of what to do with the remnants of the UK’s coal mining industry has been constant ever since the industry all but disappeared in the late 1980s. Former colliery sites have been left to fall into dilapidated ruins but this innovative idea promises to bring a new lease of life to these once proud areas.

One of the major owners of many former colliery sites, the Land Trust, has shown a willingness to transform these sites given the right opportunity. Chief Executive Euan Hall said of the proposed idea: “It’s a great idea and one that we have previously considered ourselves.”

“There are obvious challenges, not least that many shafts have been capped or have been built on, but there are lots of coalfields where there’s no community around them, where this is clearly something worth looking at.”

A spokesperson from another major land owner of former colliery sites, the Coal Authority said it was “open to considering new ideas” in relation to the proposed underground farms.

He also stressed the ongoing importance and significance of these sites, adding: “As an organisation, we constantly review new ways to develop our mining legacy in an effort to minimise remediation costs, generate income from by products and create a future for these important and unique areas.”

Whether this idea comes to fruition remains to be seen but it demonstrates the importance that the UK’s coal mining past holds and a willingness to restore these areas to their proud functioning best.

The fallout from the caseation of the UK’s coal mining history continues through to present day and can be seen in a number of instances. Alongside the abandoned collieries, the physical impact on the miners themselves, who could well have benefited from this idea, is still prevalent with many miners still suffer today with conditions like Vibration White Finger.


Jordans Solicitors has a department working with ex coal miners looking into their Vibration White Finger claims as it has come to light that many miners missed out on £1000’s. If you’re an ex miner and think you may have a claim, contact a member of our VWF team free on 0330 300 1103 or request a call back.

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