A FIRST-time protestor, who just happens to be an 84-year-old birdwatcher, joined 20 Maules Creek community members at the ongoing Boggabri Coal mine protest yesterday and was arrested later on.
Tamworth man Russ Watts chained himself to the gates of the mine's coal haulage road early in the morning, preventing access by the mine's employees for more than six hours before voluntarily unlocking himself.
While trying to leave the site, fellow protestors said he was arrested by police and taken to the Narrabri station where it was likely he would be charged with obstruction.
Phil Sparks of the Northern Inland Council for the Environment said Mr Watts was a bit shaken over the arrest.
Community members, including a mother and her children, blockaded the haul road for the second day in a row in protest against three major open cut coal mines planned for the area.
Mr Watts is a founding and life member of the Tamworth Birdwatchers, and a local expert who has authored journals and tour guides, but says the mines would effectively destroy the habitat of 21 threatened bird species, including the Barking Owl, Hooded Robin and Grey-Crowned Babbler, in their haven in the Leard State Forest, if they went ahead.
"The new and expanded coal mines proposed in the Boggabri area will destroy 5000 hectares of bushland," he said.
It was the first-time the 84-year-old had taken part in such a protest.
"The bush I once knew has disappeared since old-king coal came along," Mr Watts said.
"I'm at the stage where this action is needed."
The mine, operated by Idemitsu Australia Resources, and its supposed expansion have been at the centre of the ongoing protest since the beginning of the year.
This most recent protest on Monday resulted in a police rescue effort and the other arrests of two men, who scaled a coal-crushing plant and set up hammocks and an anti-mining banner over an eight hour period.
Idemitsu yesterday issued a statement saying the protestors had put themselves at risk and interrupted the mine's operations for a second consecutive day.
It said it's the fourth interruption to the mine's operations by the same group of people since April.
Boggabri Coal general manager of operations Ken Mclaren said their actions were highly irresponsible.
"They are deliberately putting the business under pressure and the knock-on effect is that they are also putting our staff, suppliers and customers under pressure," he said.
Mr Mclaren said they were happy to discuss plans with stakeholders.
"But they also have to appreciate we operate a legitimate business," he said.