Dunstonhill landscape is revitalised as works conclude on site

Almost five years to the day since the liquidation of Scottish Coal Company Ltd in April 2013, Dunstonhill opencast coal mine site, near Patna, has been revitalised.

Earlier this month, East Ayrshire’s Planning Committee heard how the Council’s Steps to Recovery strategy has resulted in the successful conclusion of an extensive restoration programme to repair and re-profile the land.

Following the liquidation of SCCL in 2013, coaling and water pumping operations ceased and the coal extraction at the site was abandoned. This rendered the 80ha site dangerous as the quarry voids filled with water, presenting significant and potential hazards to its neighbouring communities and the local environment.

In 2015 East Ayrshire Council contracted Hargreaves Surface Mining Ltd to carry out remedial works to secure the site, working in conjunction with East Ayrshire Council and Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT) to deliver the project. These works are now complete. The site has now been removed from the Mines and Quarry Regulations and the land returned to the three landowners. At the time of the liquidation, ownership of the land owned by Scottish Coal was transferred to the Mines Restoration Limited, a subsidiary of SMRT, but in April this year, the land was sold on to a local farmer.

Future use of the land will now be determined by the landowners – most likely low level grazing and potentially forestry. The site has been re-profiled to take account of its natural resources. The large water void has been secured and additional pathways have been reinstated in line with requests from the local community. Two rights of way, which had been previously blocked by opencast operations, have been reopened and link pathways have been created, and it is anticipated that these will form part of East Ayrshire Leisure’s Core Paths network in the future. The remainder of the site has been regraded and designed to form a landscape that is sympathetic to its immediate natural environment.

The local community has played a pivotal role in bringing works at Dunstonhill to a safe conclusion; community liaison meetings and site visits provided opportunities to review progress and feed into the process and it is hoped that the liaison group will continue to oversee aftercare works, as necessary.

Future enhancements to the site will include the provision of a signboard setting out the history of the former mining village at Lethanhill with directional signage throughout the site to support the new footpaths and a viewpoint to allow visitors to use the new tracks for recreational walks and to review the panoramic landscape of Ayrshire.

Councillor Jim Roberts, Chair of East Ayrshire Planning Committee welcomed this report. He said: “The conclusion of these works is a testament to five years of hard work and commitment from the Council, landowners and the local community, all united by a common aim to make this site secure and bring it back into local use.

“This has been a major concern for the people of East Ayrshire’s southernmost communities since the collapse of Scottish Coal Ltd in 2013 left some sites abandoned.

“In the time that followed we have worked with the Scottish Government Coal Taskforce and many other agencies to find solutions on a site by site basis to the environmental and employment issues arising from this situation, and the completion of Dunstonhill marks a significant milestone in the wider restoration of opencast coal sites in East Ayrshire.

Councillor Roberts advised that significant progress has also been made on other
former opencast coal sites. He explains: “Restoration works being carried out by Hargreaves Surface Mining Ltd at Skares and Netherton, previously operated by ATH Resources, are also reaching a conclusion. By the end of May, the remaining void will be filled and the area will be re-defined to provide a final landscape which sits naturally with the surrounding hillside.

“The remainder of the works will be concluded during summer 2018. Thereafter, the land will revert to its land owners, Forestry Commission and Barr Environmental who will then take on their own aftercare programmes.

“In addition, The Council will work with the Forestry Commission to resolve ownership issues pertaining to the area of disclaimed land immediately south of Skares Village.”
Similarly, restoration of Ponesk and Spireslack continues apace, under contracts operated by HJ Banks Mining Ltd, which are due for completion by September 2018.

Land at Ponesk has been reprofiled in keeping with the surrounding hillside, complete with tree planting. Flood prevention measures have been put in place, with a new overflow burn installed to minimise any future risk of surface flooding onto the A70 and additional protection installed around the voids.

Profiling work to the Glenbuck tip will continue over the summer. The final land form will allow areas to be used for agriculture and forestry, with access to view the geological features within the site.

East Ayrshire Council continues to work with the landowner, Mines Restoration Limited, British Geological Survey and the Community Liaison Committee on these final land use proposals along with the options to commemorate the former mining village of Glenbuck and its former residents.

Significant progress has been made by MRL to implement the approved restoration scheme at Powharnal. Re-profiling works are progressing ahead of schedule; Gasswater has been fully restored and extensive landscaping has transformed substantial parts of this former open cast site.

Works at Powharnal will continue for the remainder of this calendar year, with completion scheduled for summer 2019. These works will ensure that the final landform around the water body and reclaimed hillside naturalise with the surrounding habitat of the Special Protection Area.
Work also continues with the reinstatement of Powharnal Mitigation Management Plan to progress the Peatland Restoration and Monitoring Bird Activity within the Special Protection Area.

Councillor Roberts concludes:
“While significant progress has been recorded to date over these four sites, East Ayrshire Council continues to honour its commitment to make safe, make good and make new, as we seek to develop restoration schemes for the remaining three abandoned open cast coal complexes at Chalmerston, Dalfad, Garleffan /Grievehill.
“These schemes are at varying stages of the design process with implementation planned over 2018 and 2019.”