Scotland's Carboniferous legacy landscapes

Spireslack surface mine

Opencast coal sites at Spireslack in East Ayrshire and at Mainshill Wood in South Lanarkshire currently deliver unique and stunning geological exposures. These sites, along with others in the area, can be retained for a wide range of uses and re-developed during restoration to provide a rich visitor and/or learning experience of coal geology, the coal industry and a former way of life for previous generations of Scots.

The late 18th to mid-20th century industrial prosperity of Scotland and its urban development depended upon the extensive deposits of approximately 325 million year old Carboniferous coal, ironstone and oil shale. Imaginatively and constructively restored, Mainshill Wood, Spireslack and Dalfad can deliver a unique, natural rock laboratory for industry and university training and research. BGS is working closely with the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust to find ways of doing so.

Held in trust for future generations, these opencast sites can deliver a laboratory and learning platform, alongside a rich visitor experience supported by local communities.

Amongst the themes that might be developed for these sites are:

  • research and training (industry and university collaboration)
  • primary to tertiary education, including U3A
  • a virtual classroom
  • on-site information and activities
  • industrial heritage tourism (like the New Lanark World Heritage Site)
  • social history (e.g. Glenbuck and the Bill Shankly connection)
  • (geo)tourism and geodiversity (Scottish Geodiversity Forum)

Carboniferous geology in 3D

Effective recovery of energy resources demands high-level understanding of the subsurface architecture and the related geotechnical properties and behaviour of these Carboniferous strata. Keele University, BGS and Kier Mining are capturing an unparalleled 3D dataset of Carboniferous strata and fault architecture at the working opencast mine at Greenburn in Ayrshire. There, Coal Measures Group strata are affected by a multi-component fault system with varied amounts and styles of displacement.

For further details contact Tom Cain (Keele University).

Restoring old surface mines

The Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT) has been established to help facilitate the process of communities and other stakeholders in restoring opencast coal sites across Scotland to bring together viable restoration plans for them. SMRT's role is to offer advice, expertise and, where appropriate, funding to facilitate the plans for restoration of derelict sites through engagement with community groups, landowners, the public and private sectors, voluntary bodies and government.

BGS are supporting this initiative and will deliver the strategic geological baseline knowledge to underpin these efforts.


For further information about the opportunities presented by these unique sites, and to coordinate access, please contact Graham Leslie.