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Banks Mining team reflect on restoration of derelict East Ayrshire coal mines  

Published by , Assistant Editor
World Coal,

Transforming any opencast coal mine into an area which can be enjoyed by members of the local community is a complex process that will always present challenges unless carefully planned, more so an abandoned opencast mine.

Having restored over 111 opencast mines, Banks Mining were able to safely and efficiently restore two derelict opencast mines, Ponesk and Spireslack, on behalf of the local planning authority East Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT). 


The team quickly established a strong relationship with the local community - a priority for every Banks Mining project – by maintaining an open channel of communication with local residents. 


Working with the local communities of nearby Muirkirk and Glenbuck, including the people that live closest to the Ponesk and Spireslack sites, Banks Mining were able to plan the work to restore the sites so that it caused the least amount of disruption to people’s daily lives, and included their ideas for the restoration where the company could too. This was its development with care approach.


A 15 strong, predominantly local, highly skilled and experienced team worked to make the vital landform, visual and safety improvements required following the site’s abandonment in 2013 when previous operators, Scottish Coal, went into administration.


In just over two years, the team transformed these abandoned opencast mines into areas which sit in sympathy with the surrounding landscape - safely accessible to the public via a newly created network of footpaths and tracks. 


The work involved the excavation and re-profiling of more than 6 million t of rock and soil, focussing on reshaping the overburden mounds on the site to remove steep sided slopes and create a safer landform.


The abandoned void at Spireslack contains unique geological features of international importance which have been retained, allowing for future development of the site as a Geopark.


It was quickly established that there was little soil available at both sites, meaning the team had to be creative to ensure that the small volume of soil that was available was put to best use in order to maximise the area which could be covered.  Banks Mining also worked closely with SMRT to import compost to boost the available soils resource.


During the mining operations at Ponesk, groundwater levels were managed by pumps. However, after the cessation of mining 2013, groundwater levels rose, flooding on to the adjacent A70 road and freezing in winter.  To address this issue, the Banks Mining restoration team created a new drainage channel to intercept the groundwater and divert it into the adjacent Ponesk Burn – preventing flooding on the road. The concept and design of this drainage channel was tabled prior to the commencement of the restoration at the first meeting of the Technical Working Group which was made up of all interested parties including SEPA.  The local SEPA officer inspected the channel at various stages of construction and after completion, making some suggestions with regard to the design along the way.  His suggestions were incorporated into the restoration plan.


The restorations were undertaken with such care that the natural environment was unaffected and a variety of wildlife – including peregrine falcons, herds of deer, foxes, brown hares, and a whole variety of birdlife including curlews and lapwings – were, and are, often seen across the sites.


Local workers were trained and employed to undertake the work, aligning with the ‘Connect to Banks Mining Charter’, which provides a framework for the training of staff. At Ponesk and Spireslack all staff were trained to Banks’ high standards of safety and operational responsibility - gaining an SVQ level two in plant operation in the process.


The highly skilled team were able to take the unsightly surface mines and transform them into what we see today – an attractive landscape in keeping with the surrounding Muirkik / Glenbuck valley. 


Cheryl Hynd, Muirkirk Community Association member said: “The Ponesk and Spireslack sites, have now been fully restored by the Banks Mining team.  


“The sites are unrecognisable from their previous state.  We are very grateful to Banks Mining and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust for restoring this a piece of lost scenery.”


Hynd added: “What has been achieved is beyond my expectations.

“I grew up in the old Glenbuck village.  I have very happy childhood memories of the old village.  It is great to see the landscape restored to what it was.  I never thought I would see it restored in my lifetime.”

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