Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT)

Landscape restoration for a number of abandoned large scale open-cast mines.

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Background

Hirst Landscape Architects were initially appointed by SMRT as part of a multi-disciplinary team, to undertake a Feasibility Study into tourism and alternative uses for derelict, open-cast coal sites in East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. The two chosen sites were at Mainshill Wood (adjacent to the M74 motorway, 2 miles east of Douglas) and Spireslack (4 miles east of Muirkirk).

Location

East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire

Client

Scottish Mines Restoration Trust

Project Period

2014 - 2016

Both locations had been abandoned following the demise of the original Operators leaving the landscape significantly blighted. Both sites were however regarded by the British Geological Survey as having unique and exceptional exposures which were worthy of retention and exploitation in their remediation to provide a rich visitor and/or learning experience in coal geology, the heritage of the coal industry, and a former way of life for previous generations of Scots.

Furthermore, it was felt that there was a truly exciting opportunity to hold these sites in trust for the benefit of future geological training, research and knowledge exchange. The legacy is such that there is an aspiration that these two sites could form the nucleus of a much larger network, developed as a Geo Park of international importance. It was however acknowledged that of itself, this heritage was unlikely to be a sufficient driver for economic development and job creation within the area.

Consequently, the Study was aimed at establishing other economically sustainable alternative uses as part of a cohesive restoration plan. This focused largely on compatible recreational activities, operated as commercial enterprises.

Hirst Landscape Architects carried out extensive Landscape and Visual Impact Assessments before producing broad scale proposals illustrating how best the multifarious functions could be accommodated within a reconfigured and restored landscape.

Proposals were developed for both sites, which included major re-grading using available resources to revegetate barren land.  At Mainshill Wood, due to its proximity to the motorway network, the underlying premise was that the site could be developed as a leisure destination within a country park environment retaining the the water filled void, with the geological exposure providing a dramatic backdrop for the setting. At Spireslack, the concept evolved around the partial rehabilitation of Glenbuck Village which had been consumed by the mining operations. Glenbuck’s claim to fame was that Bill Shankly, the famous footballer and Liverpool Manager, had been born there in 1913.

This link had the potential to provide a substantive visitor attraction for the many football fans who already make the pilgrimage to see the Shankly Memorial. Necessarily, due to the expansive nature of the site, large tracts of land had to be returned to productive use. The proposals therefore create additional farmland for grazing and incorporate large stands of commercial woodland to establish the “Shankly Forest”. Once again, the reconfigured landscape was designed to provide safe and legible access to the geological exposures. Work is ongoing to establish funding sources, whilst basic land remediation is being carried out.

On the strength of our performance in relation to the Study outcomes, we were subsequently retained to develop proposals for another extensive abandoned surface mine at Powharnal, which lies further along the Douglas Valley, just west of Muirkirk. This is a sensitive site bounded by the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area. One of the consequences of the mining operations had been interference with the hydrology rendering it necessary to reinstate the line of original watercourses to alleviate flood pressures further downstream. Two phases of infrastructural tree planting have already taken place and remediation works on site are currently ongoing.