Drone video captures ghostly remains of once-mighty Welsh coal plant

drone video coal

As an indication of how quickly things can change, a UK drone pilot’s video of a shuttered colliery and coke plant in Wales offers dramatic evidence of how swiftly the carbon-spewing coal industry has declined in the space of a generation.

Professional photographer and aerial video pilot Ollie Wells captured haunting first-person view drone footage of Wales’s Cwm Colliery, near Pontypridd. It was shuttered nearly 35 years ago in the wake of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s frontal assault on the UK’s coal mining industry. Though supporters viewed striking miners as both victims and heroes in their opposition to Thatcher’s conservative policies, the reputation of coal and other fossil fuels has since earned a decidedly negative reputation in a swiftly warming world. The current state of the Cwm facility may provide hope to people protesting timid resolutions coming out of the COP26 summit of how things might change yet.

Wells’s shots of the Welsh plant involve none of the politics in that. But they do provide arresting evidence of how quickly much of the coal industry slumped from industrial titan to fallen giant in the time since the Cwm colliery’s closure in November, 1986.

version of one of Wells’s flights was featured this week by Walesonline, with an accompanying article on how the Midlands native ended up in Wales (college, then marriage to a local), and became interested in the area’s deep history in coal. 

“We live now next to an old opencast mining site,” Wells told the publication. “So over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in mining history, and especially the technology side of things… Someone mentioned the (Cwm) colliery, and I went to have a look. I was gobsmacked – it was like a made up place from a film.”

In fact, he was so impressed by the chimneys, silos, and stoking buildings he used his drone to create videos of his own, such as this film of the coal facility – reclaimed by vegetation and seriously worn by the elements ­– uploaded last June.

“You could almost feel the history,” Wells said of the colliery, nearby coal pit, and his drone videos of those. “Every window, every piece of metal, duct, pipe and step tells a story. It’s amazing. It has to be one of my favorite sites to fly and film. I always capture something new that I hadn’t seen before… (I)t’s fascinating to see, and there are not many sites like this around anymore, that give the true sense of scale of the operations that happened on the surface.”

Wells says he wishes the Cwm colliery could be preserved as a monument to the history it represents, and industrial might that – in the space of a few decades – has been reduced to ruin. But since the considerable destabilization of the facility makes preservation unlikely, Wells said he has kicked notions around various internet forums about how it might be used otherwise.

“An idea we discussed in one of the groups was to make it an official drone flying space,” he says, “but that seems unlikely.”

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