Coal firm fined for SSSI breach

A subsidiary of one of the UK’s largest coal mining firms has been fined for after building a road across a Site of Special Scientific Interest without permission from Scottish Natural Heritage.

Aardvark TMC, a subsidiary of one of the UK’s largest coal producers, has been fined £10,000 after building a road through an Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) without notifying Scottish Natural Heritage of the work.

The open cast mining company pleaded guilty to the offence under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 section 19(3) and (5) at Ayr sheriff court on 27 July 2010.

Aardvark TMC was operating at Grievehill open cast coal mine near Millstone Moss, New Cumnock, between March and August 2008 when the offence took place.

The road was built through the Muirkirk Uplands, designated as an SSSI in 2001. It includes high-quality blanket bog with wet and dry heaths and acid grassland. It supports a number of rare bird species such as hen harriers, short-eared owls  and peregrines.

Aardvark is a subsidiary of ATH Resources, the third largest producer of coal in the UK, turning out over two million tonnes a year.

Tom Dysart, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service lead on wildlife and environmental crime, said: “Aardvark TMC Ltd failed to obtain consent from Scottish Natural Heritage for the construction of a road and the associated use of vehicles on the SSSI.

“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.”

Ross Johnston, Scottish Natural Heritage’s area manager said: “We are committed to working constructively with developers to help find a balance between economic and environmental objectives.

“But this case highlights the need for developers to play their part if we are to deliver sustainable economic development on these sensitive nature sites.”

In a similar case, Wemmergill Moor Ltd, a shooting estate, was fined £50,000 and ordered to pay £237,548 legal costs after admitting to damaging an SSSI near Barnard Castle, County Durham, in 2008 (ENDS Report 397, p 61).

Natural England brought the case after the company built a track and car park on the moorland site and home to rare birds, without seeking the necessary permission.

In addition to the substantial fine the company was issued with a restoration order, thought to bring total costs to about £500,000.