Established in 2010 with the support of OXFAM, Eadha Enterprises aspires to the social, economic and environmental regeneration of East Ayrshire. This area was subject to widespread opencast coal mining activity and has struggled to find new employment opportunities following the closure of the deep mines in the 1980s and 1990s. As a result, local communities have been subject to high unemployment, fuel poverty, and poor health and wellbeing.
The decline of the coal mining industry in East Ayrshire has also resulted in large areas of vacant, derelict and contaminated land. Some of these sites have been partially restored. However, they often have thin, acidic and compacted soil, making them unsuitable for agricultural use and preventing the establishment of woodland plantations.
Known as thepioneer tree, Aspen is very tolerant of nutrient poor soils. Research demonstrates that it can remediate contaminated and acidified land, thus creating the right conditions for other tree species to become established. It is also a potentially useful and productive species. It grows quickly and can provide a valuable woodfuel crop on a short rotation forestry system.
Eadha Enterprises sought to trial the planting of aspen as a biofuel crop on restored land at the former open cast coal mining site at Skares in East Ayrshire. It was hoped that this project would help to preserve this rare and threatened tree species, whilst also acting as a catalyst for the social, economic and environmental regeneration of the area.
A 3ha deer fence was erected and three trial plots were created. A range of aspen clones was planted alongside some downy willow and juniper. It was hoped that this would provide some diversity and prevent the establishment of a monoculture.
The soil at the Skares site was extremely poor, with a limited cover of organic topsoil overlying compacted clay. This provided a challenging environment for the newly planted aspen trees. Nevertheless, soil amendments were not permitted as it was felt that the trial should focus on the potential of the aspen and other key tree species to colonise these degraded sites without soil amendment.
Eadha Enterprises employed the services of a number of consultants and academic experts to assist in the preparation of feasibility studies. The aim of these studies was to explore opportunities for large scale landscape and habitat restoration based on aspen woodland creation. The studies would also explore how community based woodfuel supply chains could be established using the future timber resource at the Skares site.
The feasibility studies identified opportunities for the creation a community woodfuel enterprise. This enterprise would use the existing timber resource in East Ayrshire supplemented by new aspen woodland plantations. If implemented, it would help to ameliorate fuel poverty in East Ayrshire whilst also providing training and employment opportunities for the local community. Consultants estimated that 11 jobs would be created over 5 years and that 500 people could be trained over a period of 10 years. The skills developed through these employment and training opportunities would be transferrable in the wider forestry industry, in particular in the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere where a skills shortage has been identified.
The feasibility studies emphasised the environmental benefits of productive native woodlands in terms of biodiversity and carbon offsetting. They recommended the expansion of the project to former open cast mine sites throughout East Ayrshire and provided designs that would deliver multiple environmental habitats, whilst also being sensitive to non-woodland habitats and species.
The Skares Field Trial was successfully established and a monitoring process was put in place to measure the growth and survival of the aspen trees over a period of 5 years. The information gathered from this trail was recorded using GIS and a vast amount of baseline information has been made available for wider use. For example, the information gathered has been used to directly inform the development of the new Ayrshire and Arran Forestry and Woodland Strategy.
"With the demise of Scottish Coal and ATH it seems that your proposal could assist not only in delivering for local jobs and alleviating fuel poverty but assist in the restoration of some of the sites working in a broad partnership, to ensure that the industries legacy is a more positive one." Phil Rayson (Crestwood Environmental and former Scottish Coal)
A number of key stakeholders in the mining industry and the wider coalfield community including the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust have expressed an interest in the project and the model it offers for delivering mine restoration.
The information gathered as part of this project will provide a powerful tool to help deliver an integrated habitat network in this area of the CSGN. Located on the northern margins of the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere Reserve, the study area has been identified as strategically important, and the ecological restoration proposed has the potential to create an important link between this reserve and Scotland's Central Belt.
Many of the communities surrounding the Skares study area have large pockets of multiple deprivation. These communities now face the additional impacts of the recent mining crisis, including the loss of mining employment and a legacy of abandoned mines. Eadha Enterprises has engaged with local agencies to maximise the potential social and economic gains of the Growing Green Energy project and it plans to undertake community consultation to outline the Growing Green Energy model and to present the findings of the feasibility studies.
Since the completion of the CSGN funded feasibility study, the situation in East Ayrshire has changed dramatically. Two of the three major mine operators have gone into liquidation and unproductive sites, including partially restored mines, are being abandoned. The value of the bonds put in place to pay for mine restoration is insufficient to cover the projected cost of the required remedial work and many of these sites have severe constraints preventing the establishment of mainstream land uses such as farming or forestry. Innovative and creative solutions are required and Eadha Enterprises believes that the Growing Green Energy feasibility study represents a valuable contribution to the debate. The model, as demonstrated in the Skares Field Trial, illustrates how these vacant and derelict sites can be restored to productive use at minimal cost, delivering multiple benefits including biodiverse woodland and a future economic resource for local communities.
Eadha Enterprises is actively engaging with all stakeholders, including the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, to conduct further targeted feasibility work with the aim of implementing a large scale restoration project in the near future.
|2011||CSGN Development Fund||34,706|