April 04, 1977 12:00 PM

If this coal is so important to Britain’s future energy needs, then it should be kept where it is for a rainy day,” announces the 10th Duke of Rutland, his blue blood boiling. “If we mine it now, this area could soon look like the mountains of the moon.”

Under the real estate in question may be the largest untapped coal reserve in Western Europe—some 450 million tons—which Britain’s National Coal Board is lusting to plunder. If the board succeeds, then it’s goodbye to the peaceful Leicestershire country around Belvoir, the 70-odd-room 19th-century castle that is the duke’s principal residence (with his second wife and their three children) and a popular tourist attraction (80,000 visitors last year).

Rutland, 57, a pheasant-hunting, trout-fishing Tory, also owns three hotels in the region and a second estate in Derbyshire. But, as chairman of the Leicestershire County Council, he is currently focusing his attention on the fields around Belvoir. Besides destroying the area’s tourist appeal, says the duke, the Coal Board’s plan would mean the loss of up to 4,000 acres of farmland, and would produce some 4.5 million tons of slag every year. Rutland scoffs at the Coal Board’s claim that the area could be attractively landscaped. “They don’t know what they’re talking about,” he says. “What gets me is the sheer infuriating arrogance of these bureaucrats driving around in their big cars, thinking they can do just as they like.”

Probably they can. Even if Rutland’s embattled neighbors reject the Coal Board’s proposals, the government could simply take over their land. Rutland, who was a captain in the Grenadier Guards at Normandy, is pinning his hopes on a delaying action. “We are exploiting North Sea oil and gas at the moment,” he says, “and if the project can be postponed for 25 years, there is the possibility of further development of nuclear power.”

How to keep the coal men at bay? “We’ve got to get out into the street,” says Rutland. “Even now a Coal Board man can’t put his head out of a car window around here without getting a protest placard stuck on it (e.g. “Achtung! Minefield!”). Is Britain ready for a duke on the barricades? “Life is totally reversed these days,” he observes with a sigh. “Dukes aren’t the robber barons any longer; the nationalized industries are. And what with taxes and inflation, I don’t suppose there will even be dukes like me in 200 years time. But I don’t think you should pack up and go before you have to. It’s so terribly defeatist.”

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