The UK’s stockpiles of coal have shrunk to less than 500,000 tonnes in 2015, the lowest level since the end of the First World War, heralding an end of the fossil fuel’s era.
The data released by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) demonstrate the declining importance of coal in energy generation in the UK. This year, the dying industry witnessed several milestones on its way to extinction.
The number of workers employed in the sector dropped to only 2,000, a new record low. In May, the Carbon Brief website reported several instances when no electricity was being produced using coal – the first time since late 19th century. All of these events lasted for up to half a day.
The diminishing presence of coal in the UK's energy mix is in line with the UK government's pledge from last November to completely eliminate the use of coal in energy generation by 2025. As it seeks to meet its emission reduction targets, the government intends to first replace coal with less polluting natural gas and nuclear generation before moving on towards fully renewable resources such as wind, solar or tidal power.
The stocks of coal have been low for several years but in 2015 for the first time dropped below 500,000. Some seven million tonnes were available in 1995, while as much as 22 million tonnes was held at collieries in 1965.
The size of the UK coal industry has been declining since the miners' strike of 1984-5, which began a rolling programme of pit closures across the country.
In 1984, just before the strike began, a total of 139,000 people were employed by mining companies. A decade later the number had dropped to 7,000.
At its height in the 1920s, the UK coal industry used to employ over a million people in 3,000 coal mines, with coal towns in Yorkshire, East Midlands and north-east England housing generations of miners.
By 1963, the number of operating collieries dropped to 1,000. In 1987, only 100 were still running.
The UK's last deep coal mine, in Kellingley, North Yorkshire, closed in December 2015.