EXTINCTION Rebellion activists and local protestors joined forces yesterday to blockade a controversial opencast coal mine as three days of action at the site got underway.

Up to 150 demonstrators, waving the distinctive yellow ER flag and bearing placards, descended on the Bradley opencast mine on the A692, between Leadgate and Dipton, County Durham, at dawn.

Campaigners under the banner of We are the Dead Canaries vowed to keep mining operations shut down with a series of acts of “non-violent civil disobedience” until the weekend.

The blockade forms the culmination of a four-week campaign against the proposed expansion of the mine, which included the digging up of the grass bank outside the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in Central London a fortnight ago.

Protestors are calling on Durham County Council to reject Banks Group’s application to expand the mine, ahead of the planning committee’s decision in March. The company already has permission to extract 500,000 tonnes of coal.

Yesterday’s demonstration remained peaceful, with only a handful of police officers present, while mine security staff maintained a vigil around the mine’s perimeter.

Folk musician Bethany Elen Coyle, who grew up in nearby Old Greencroft, led the singing of environmental protest songs and retired Methodist minister Reverend Paul Golightly held a traditional Ash Wednesday service.

Local resident Jackie Scollen said: “Durham County Council have declared a climate emergency. Now they need to show us that they mean it.

“Our communities were destroyed by the closure of the mines, then the industry came back and decimated our land with opencast extraction. Coal is our heritage, not our future.”

Retired GP, Dr Paul Shepherd, from Lanchester, said: “There is a really good spirit here with people from all over the country. People are having a lot of fun today but it’s about a serious thing.”

Kevin Haigh, 73, of Birtley said: “Banks’ Group say it’s better to mine here, rather than import our coal. To that scientifically dubious claim, I say - would you like to die from Russian coal or UK coal? We don’t want to die from any coal pollution.”

Mark Dowdall at The Banks Group says: “XR’s ill-conceived demands will directly exacerbate the problem they are looking to solve. Until viable alternatives are in place, five to six million tonnes of coal will still be needed each year in the UK as a raw material for our steel and cement industries, so that we can build much-needed infrastructure including new wind and solar farms, houses, roads and railways.

He added:“The privileged, ill-informed XR protestors, most of whom are once again from outside the area and who are causing more disturbance to local residents than our operations ever have, would be more effective protesting against imports of Russian, American and Australian coal rather than counter-productively threatening much-needed regional investment and the livelihoods of hard-working northern families.”