Greenburn Surface Mine by Ramboll and Kier Minerals Ltd
Shortlisted for Brownfield Awards Category 13 - Best Biodiversity Enhancement
Ramboll has facilitated the restoration of habitats and created ecological enhancements at the Greenburn Surface Mine through a more than 20-year collaboration with Kier Minerals
Ltd, part of the wider Kier Group Plc. Effective stakeholder communication has been at the core of the project’s success, creating a site that has benefited biodiversity and the community.
On a 227-hectare site in East Ayrshire, Scotland, the Greenburn Surface Mine began operating in 2003 and was heralded as an exemplary coal mine, extracting 7.7 million tonnes of coal until the last of the coal was mined in 2018 with the site then moving fully to the restoration phase.
Operated by Kier Minerals, a division of Kier Infrastructure, the operations saw excavation and industrial development on multiple farms and their land in the upper reaches of the Nith Valley near New Cumnock. This included construction and operation of a new railhead, and permanent realignment of the River Nith in two locations.
Site Before Mining
Site during Operational Mining
Ramboll has provided a range of key ecological services and consultancy for the Greenburn Surface Mine since the project’s pre-development stage in 1998—work that continues today through monitoring of the species and habitats on site post-restoration.
Prior to the development of the mine, the site contained a number of habitats of low biodiversity value, with the vast majority of the area dominated by heavily grazed agricultural grasslands and remnant patches of degraded peatland. To facilitate the development of an operational site for the mine, these habitats of low biodiversity value were removed but habitats of higher biodiversity value were retained, where possible, such as an area of wet modified bog and an area of mature broadleaved woodland.
In its role as a specialist ecological adviser to Kier Minerals Ltd, Ramboll was brought on board to help avoid or reduce any impacts to habitats and species during the development and operation of the mine, as far as possible, as well as advising on and monitoring the eventual restoration of the site.
To ensure that all restoration targets could be achieved, a Conservation Management Plan (CMP) was produced for the site, setting out the key species and habitats present, the measures to protect and restore them and the subsequent monitoring required between 2011 and 2025. The plan has undergone considerable changes and updates since its initial publication due to the adaptive management approach that was adopted.
Through effective and pragmatic biodiversity action and with close collaboration with Ramboll, Kier Minerals was not only able to restore Greenburn to its pre-mine conditions but has helped the site to far surpass its former biodiversity value.
The site now supports a diverse range of habitats and species and showcases a number of key ecological successes, including an enhanced restoration area with an artificial badger sett; a large seasonal wetland supporting a variety of bird species, including species new to the area; creation of rich bird nesting habitat; and enhanced bat roosting and foraging habitats.
The seasonal wetland is a particularly innovative feature that has led to new habitat creation. The habitat has already attracted many species not previously seen on site, as well as providing vital habitat for threatened wader species, such as lapwing and ringed plover, the populations of which continue to decline on other degraded farmland habitat types.
Improving the site’s ecological value
In order to act as the central framework for Ramboll’s involvement in the Greenburn Surface Mine, and to ensure that mitigation and restoration goals could be met, it was crucial the CMP’s perspective extended from well before the development of the mine to well after its closure. As such, an ecological baseline for the site was established prior to mining operations, in addition to assessing and forecasting the effects of the development.
Close examination of the likely effects on peat present on site were conducted from soil resource and carbon flux perspectives. In close collaboration with Kier Minerals and key stakeholders, Ramboll produced progressive restoration protocols for the grassland and peatland habitats, ensuring they could address planning requirements and meet on-site targets.
For example, this included documentation of the various grassland types on-site before development of the mine began, in order to aim for an improved quality of habitat post-mining. This pre-mining baseline data collection and documentation was especially important in areas of grassland with higher ecological value, such as at the margins of the agricultural lands where grazing pressures were lower, and in species rich grasslands, where abundant.
However, the foresight involved in curating the CMP extended the purpose of restoration beyond just the biodiversity value that preceded mining operations. From the outset, Ramboll and Kier Minerals approached the plan with a view to improving the ecological capabilities of the site after mining had ceased.
The plan, therefore, had to remain as robust and adaptable as it was all-encompassing. This involved extensive consultation with key stakeholders, such as East Ayrshire Council (EAC), to implement plans to mitigate effects on local wildlife, and specific instalments of features that would encourage species to thrive in the area post mining.
Several protected species were identified on the site, including badgers, barn owls, otters, and various bat species and bird species of conservation concern. For each species, a targeted plan of mitigation was set out in the CMP, each of which was designed as an evolving framework of management measures that were regularly updated with new ecological management initiatives.
Ongoing monitoring of the restoration process and regular environmental auditing allowed for the accurate assessment of results and showed an overwhelming success in increasing the ecological value of the Greenburn site. The key protected species found inhabiting the area before mining operations were successfully protected during the development and operational phases.
Furthermore, key habitats and features were restored and created on the site to encourage those species, including restored watercourses, new waterbodies, a seasonal wetland, barn owl nesting locations, artificial otter holts, a bat loft and other roosting features and an artificial badger sett.
The restoration and introduction of these features has seen native wildlife thrive, and even welcomed new visitors to the area, such as a snow goose, which overwintered in 2019.
Post-operation monitoring of bat species using the restored site has to-date recorded seven of the nine species of bat found in Scotland. The population of barn owls using the site has increased from that pre-mining and the watercourse restoration has allowed salmon and trout to reach areas inaccessible prior to mining.
Close collaboration with stakeholders
Recognising the importance of effective working relationships with both statutory and non-statutory key stakeholders, Ramboll chairs the biannual Technical Support Group (TSG) for the project that brings together Kier Minerals and key stakeholders to discuss all environmental matters for the project.
Through that process, input from NatureScot (then Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), RSPB, SWT and the Nith District Salmon Fishery Board (NDSFB) heavily informed the plans for the management, restoration, and improvement of watercourses on site. NDSFB’s electrofishing surveys and inspections of local salmon populations provided a valuable reference framework for monitoring progress and comparing the pre- mining and post-mining ecological values of watercourses along the River Nith.
Similarly, both NDSFB and SEPA were regularly updated on plans for channel excavations and flow introductions, allowing them to actively contribute to the project. Their input helped ensure that the restored watercourses are better than those degraded versions present on- site prior to mining.
Additionally, there has been regular liaison with the statutory body for planning approval and continuing compliance, EAC, which had approved
the development and operation of the Greenburn Mine throughout the development, operation, and restoration phases of the project.
EAC was consulted during the drafting of the CMP to ensure their approval of the plan was based on a comprehensive understanding of the strategy. Thereafter, EAC’s ongoing involvement was required to acknowledge that key phases of the project had been completed to the standard proposed and this has been based on the detailed annual monitoring completed by Ramboll. This task has been made easier by the exceptional job done by Kier Minerals Ltd to deliver the restoration plans and proposals on the ground.
Waterbody design inspired by local community engagement
Opportunities for engagement with the local communities surrounding Greenburn were also a priority. As the restoration of the site dealt with unique and sensitive conditions, the project presented an opportunity for local schools to engage with hands-on learning experiences of natural ecosystems and the environment. The project sought to act on this opportunity from an early stage as a key part of its stakeholder engagement, inviting school children to learn about Kier Minerals’ work on the site and design features for the enhanced restoration area.
Taking the children’s ideas into real consideration, the Ramboll and Kier Minerals Ltd team worked together to deliver an additional waterbody alongside the aptly-named Coalburn watercourse, along with a rock wall, wildflower planting and other ecological improvements that far exceeded the restoration planning requirements for that area. The area was further enhanced for wildlife when restoration plans were amended to retain a soil bank originally intended for restoration, but now home each summer to a colony of migratory sand martins.
The significance of the project
From the very start, Ramboll worked with Kier Minerals to develop the strategy for management and restoration of the Greenburn site to be as far-looking as possible and, when opportunities arose, built upon and improved that strategy. The success in effectively mitigating the impacts of the mine meant that, in the immediate and short term, the site was in the best possible condition to be restored and improved to leave it with a far higher biodiversity value than that pre-mining.
As the project entered the latter stages, Ramboll’s continued oversight and involvement allowed for further forecasting and planning for the long-term future of the area. Success stories are already well underway, such as the wading birds, barn owls and bats as described. Ramboll and Kier Minerals remain committed to supporting these species into the future and Ramboll will continue monitoring the restored site until the restored habitats have reached a stable situation.
For the project’s work in relocating bat species, as well as badgers and barn owls, and for the increased numbers of farmland birds and waders resulting from diverse habitat creation, Greenburn was recognised with a 2013 Green Apple Award.
Moreover, Ramboll and Kier Minerals maintained positive working relationships with all key stakeholders and local communities with an interest in the successful restoration and ecological enhancement of the area throughout the length of the project. Ramboll remained especially mindful that the delicate conditions of the site marked it as of particular interest to Kier Minerals and to local communities, and Kier Minerals demonstrable success of navigating these conditions and enhancing the site beyond its pre-mine status was especially appreciated by all involved.