Material flows

In 2001, the South West consumed over 42.7 million tonnes of materials. These materials were either:

  • consumed directly (in their 'raw' extracted form), for example fresh vegetables sold to a restaurant, or
  • used in the processing and manufacture of other products, for example china clay for the production of paper.

Figure 2 provides a breakdown of material production in the South West in 2001, by industrial sector.

Figure 2
A breakdown of material production in the South West, by industrial sector, in 2001

fig 2

* This category includes stone for construction, limestone, gravel, sand and clay.

Sources: BGS, 2002; Bringezu & Shutz, 2001 & 2001a; DEFRA, 2002 & 2003c; FAO, 2002; Forestry Statistics, 2003; Highley et al., 2003; ONS, 2001a and University of Plymouth, 2003

Mining and quarrying materials (such as sand and clay) dominate materials production (including extraction) in the South West, accounting for 76% of total production in the region. (Refer to Appendix 1 for a list of all materials mined and quarried in the South West). Agricultural materials account for 14% of production in the region, while 'metal ores' are the most insignificant category accounting for only 0.0001% of total production.

Table 3 provides a summary of material flows in the South West, by main industrial categories. In significant industries, consumption appears to reflect production very closely. For example, 'other mining and quarrying' materials are both consumed and produced in the largest volume in the South West. Similarly, 'agricultural materials' were the second largest volume produced (14%) and consumed (19%).

Table 3
Material flows through the South West, in 2001 ('000 tonnes)
  Production Imports Exports Stock changes*** Statistical difference+ Apparent consumption % of total materials consumed
Total materials 47,652 8,631 13,801 86 139 42,708 100%
of which…  
Agricultural materials 6,623 2,254 889 96 0 8,084 19%
Forestry 393 865 57 ** 0 1,201 3%
Fishing 298 100 138 ** 0 260 1%
of which…  
Demersal fish 118 20 35 ** 0 104 <1%
Pelagic fish 93 61 65 ** 0 90 <1%
Freshwater fish 44 4 14 ** 0 34 <1%
Other 42 15 25 ** 0 32 <1%
Coal, lignite & peat 205 241 9 -10 0 426 1%
Petroleum & natural gas 4,080 553 1,262 ** -21 3,350 8%
Metal ores 0 1,308 1 ** 0 1,308 3%
Other mining & quarrying* 36,054 3,311 11,445 ** 160 28,079 66%
* This category includes stone for construction, limestone, gravel, sand and clay.
** No data available.
*** Plus (+) equals a removal to stock (stores) and minus (-) equals an addition to stock.
+ Statistical difference highlights materials not identified as part of the production, imports, exports or stock change.
Note: Totals may differ due to rounding.
Note: Apparent consumption is production plus imports minus exports over a defined time period. This figure can be assumed as the actual volume of materials consumed within the South West. Stock of materials remaining from the previous year are also added.
Sources : BGS, 2002; Bringezu & Shutz, 2001 & 2001a; DEFRA, 2002 & 2003b; FAO, 2002; Forestry Statistics, 2003; Highley et al., 2003; ONS, 2001a and University of Plymouth, 2003.

The significance of mining and quarrying in the South West can be explained by the presence of materials which are extracted nowhere else in England. China clay and ball clay are exclusively mined in the South West. Other minerals intensively mined in the region include: chalk, limestone, sandstone, igneous rock, sand, gravel and shale (BGS, 2002).

The china clay industry

china clay mineThe china clay mines of Cornwall are said to resemble a lunar landscape, a place where "human need has exposed the white underbelly of the earth's crust." Such a sight has been created by the large-scale activities of the world's leading region for the production of china clay (or kaolin).

Mines are not only found in Cornwall, but also Devon and Dorset (the latter is also the only source of ball clay in the country). The Cornish mines, however, are the most famous. They are situated near St Austell, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. Three main companies operate out of this area, Imerys Minerals Ltd. (the largest), Goonvean Ltd. and WBB Minerals.

China clay was first discovered in the area in the 1700's, and provided a cheap source of porcelain - as opposed to expensive imports from China. Today, the production of china clay is Cornwall's largest single industry, and makes an important contribution to the local and UK economies. The industry contributes around £150 million a year to the local economy.

About 75% of Cornish china clay is used in the manufacture of paper, of which 80% is exported abroad. China clay is also used in the manufacture of porcelain (for sanitary and tableware), tiles, paint, rubber and plastics. It can also be found in leather, textiles, medicine and as an anti-caking agent in fertilizers and insecticides.

Each year, large-scale open cast mines produce over two million tonnes of china clay. High-pressure hoses are used to blast clay off quarry walls to create a fine slurry. The clay is then put through a number of washes, to separate it from sand, stone and other 'waste'. The 'purified' clay is then dried in a furnace, and readied for export from one of the local shipping ports, or to UK markets. 87% of china clay produced is exported, mainly to Europe.

A significant amount of waste is produced during the process of turning china clay from its raw form into a marketable commodity. It is estimated that for every tonne of pure clay recovered, approximately nine tonnes of waste is generated, consisting mainly of quartz, sand and rock. Due mainly to the introduction of the Aggregates Levy* in 2002, companies have had to look for a market for this 'waste', most being sold on as secondary aggregate in the South West region. However, there is a large market yet to be exploited, with an estimated UK demand for 380 million tonnes. Table 4 shows the flow of materials and waste associated with the china clay industry in the South West in 2001.

Table 4
Material flows associated with the china clay industry in the South West, in 2001 ('000 tonnes)
  Imports Production Consumption Exports
China clay 95 2,204 371 1,930
China clay waste * 19,840 * *
* Not applicable

* An environmental tax on the commercial exploitation of aggregate in the United Kingdom. The levy aims to bring about environmental benefits by making the price of aggregates better reflect the costs of extraction, and encouraging the use of alternative materials such as recycled materials and certain waste products (HM Customs & Excise, 2002).

Sources: BGS, 2002; CHAIN, 2004; China Clay Museum, 2004; Cornwall UK, 2004; Dartmoor National Park, 1998; DEFRA, 2002a; ENDS, 2004; ODPM, 2004; Scottish Executive, 2003 and The Potteries, 2004.