WORK to restore a former opencast mine has stated after a family-owned business won the contract to carry it out.

Banks Mining, which has an office in Hamilton, was appointed by East Ayrshire Council and the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust (SMRT) to undertake the work at the Ponesk mine near the town of Muirkirk.

Ponesk, along with the adjacent Spireslack opencast mine, was abandoned when former operators Scottish Coal went into administration early in 2013.

Banks Mining started work there earlier this month, and is expected to be on site for about 22 months.

The restoration project has been designed to maximise opportunities for the future use of the site, which will feature a new landscape in keeping with the local area. Ponesk’s steep-sided mounds, sharp gradients and wide terraces will all be reshaped.

Banks will create a number of new footpaths and tracks to improve public access to the site, along with a range of wildlife habitats. The restoration design also incorporates a series of measures to address the risk of offsite pollution from existing water bodies.

Restoration work on the Spireslack site will follow once Ponesk has been completed.

The non-profit SMRT was established to help the process of communities and other stakeholders in restoring opencast coal sites across Scotland, to bring together viable restoration plans for them.

The group’s chairman Professor Russel Griggs explained: “To support the restoration of opencast mines that have been abandoned as a result of operators going into administration and liquidation, our objective has been to engage with the stakeholders involved in the restoration process and work with them to find solutions to the challenges and opportunities the sites of coal mines can bring.

“We have met this key objective for Ponesk by bringing together all relevant groups – along with Banks, which has a fine track record of delivering previous restoration projects – to implement a pragmatic and innovative approach to restoring the site.”

East Ayrshire’s planning chief Michael Keane added: “With the work already under way at Netherton and Dunstonhill, and soon to start at Skares, it is good to see real progress being made on the restoration of the opencast sites across East Ayrshire.”

Jim Donnelly, operations director at Banks Mining, said: “Issues surrounding the restoration of abandoned surface mine sites across Scotland have been high on the news agenda, especially in the areas where these sites are located.

“As someone who grew up in this part of Ayrshire, it saddens me to see the way large swathes of the county have been left in this situation, and the work we’re now undertaking at Ponesk will begin the process of returning this land to the community.”