The last working animals from a British coal mine – four cats – have found news homes following the closure of the Kellingley Colliery in Beal, Yorkshire, in the north of England.

Florence, Betty, Leia and Solo had been kept at the colliery in Beal, Yorkshire, where they carried out essential vermin control duties in exchange for bed and board. Charity Cat’s Protection’s York Adoption Centre had been contacted by concerned miners last month when the pit, the UK’s last deep coal mine, closed.

Don’t worry – the cats never entered the mine – they were feral felines who kept rodents in check and in return the Kellingley Colliery staff ensured they had food, water and shelter. Cats Protection said they were in “great condition”.

Their relocation marks the end of a long history of working animals in an industry which also called on the services of pit ponies and canary birds. Historically, cats were used in to mines to keep pony stables clear of mice and rats; some ponies lived most of their lives in the dark pits.

Cats Protection’s York Adoption Centre Manager James Hodgkison said: “Feral cats are those which never received sufficient human contact as kittens and as such are not tame. While they are not domesticated, they are highly valued by farmers, smallholders or industrial settings like collieries as they provide an excellent rodent control service.”

Humane traps were used to capture the cats.

Karen Scholey, new owner of Florence and Betty, said: “We’ve had feral cats on our farm for years as they are the best form of pest control you can get and we were on the lookout for a couple more when we heard about the colliery cats.

“It is a true privilege for us to give them a home as they represent so much about the important mining history in the area. It was a very sad day for Yorkshire when the pit closed, and I’m just happy we’ve been able to at least help these two cats.It was only fitting they were given names to represent their background, so we decided to name them after two of the strongest women involved in the miners strikes in the 1980s [miners’ wives Florence Anderson and Betty Cook].”

Amanda Beal, who named the the other two cats she adopted Leia and Solo, said both are settling in well.

“Solo is most definitely very feral and we don’t see much of her – she’s busy keeping the mice under control. But Leia very quickly decided that she likes some creature comforts and moved into the house. She is very nervous but enjoys human company so she must have been well looked after during her time at the pit,” Amanda said.

Leia and Solo were named after the regal heroine and roguish hero who have defended the galaxy on numerous occasions against the Empire.

Polly Stewart
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