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For the first time in Scotland, a major mining company has been fined for flouting environmental law. ATH Resources, the UK’s 3rd largest mining company producing 2 million tonnes a year from 5 open cast sites in East Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Fife has come under fire for imposing unwanted mines on communities, and now for building on a protected peatland which is part of the Muirkirk Uplands, a vast moorland site awarded special scientific significance in 2001.

ATH were penalised for failing to alert a heritage watchdog over its plans to expand operations at Grievehill, near New Cumnock. The area is one of the largest protected nature reserves in Britain and renowned for its huge variety of upland habitats and breeding birds.

This fine, the first to be imposed by a Scottish court under legislation to protect such sites, was for £10,000 after the company pled guilty at Ayr Sheriff Court to a charge of carrying out damaging operations on the site without the prior agreement of Scottish Natural Heritage.

Ross Johnston, SNH area manager, said: “The Muirkirk Uplands has some of Scotland’s best peatland habitat and has high numbers of breeding birds, including hen harriers, short-eared owl and golden plover. While we regret that the damage happened at all, we welcome this successful prosecution in what was a highly complex case.”

Tom Dysart, area procurator-fiscal, who also leads efforts to prosecute wildlife and environmental crime cases in Scotland, said: “The Crown Office and procurator-fiscal service takes a robust approach to anyone caught breaking the environmental laws which exist to protect Scotland’s rich natural heritage. The fact that this case was placed on indictment, and would have been prosecuted before a sheriff and jury had the company not admitted its guilt, demonstrates how seriously these crimes are viewed by the Crown.”

These comments and institutional back-slapping are all very well, but the fact remains that open casts are allowed next to supposedly protected areas, and are frequently placed on SSSI’s and cause untold damage to ecosystems and wildlife all over the central belt of Scotland. This ruling suggests that the environmental destruction caused by mining companies does not go unpunished – far from it, it is a daily occurrence that is largely ignored by councils and consultees such as SNH.

This case appears to be more of an exercise in PR for Scotland’s apologists for open cast coal mining and the destruction it causes. Indeed, £10,000 amounts to nothing more than 0.0006% of the £17million it recently sold its coal recovery unit for, or the cost of around 70 tonnes of coal – mined in a matter of hours. £10,000 for the damage done to one of Scotland’s most important nature reserves? There’s no justice in Ayr Sheriff Court.

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