IT was dubbed Scotland's Grand Canyon, but it was always so much more bleak than its American namesake.

The giant open-cast mine at Powharnal in East Ayrshire was so blighted that barely anything would grow at the site after its owner Scottish Coal went bust in 2013.

Now, after years of expensive and painstaking work to return the site to nature, birds have returned.

This was revealed by the chief executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, Francesca Osowska, as she expressed hope the pit could now become a visitor attraction.

Ms Osowska said: "The open cast mine was left in an incredibly degraded state. Nothing would grow there without intervention. We have worked with the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust to turn that around. Hopefully it will be somewhere that people can enjoy. Birds are returning."

FROM ARCHIVES: How The Herald revealed the open-cast mining 'national crisis' in 2014

Powharnal near Muirkirk was one of seven huge mines, most in Ayrshire, abandoned when Scottish Coal closed. Five years ago The Sunday Herald revealed growing risks of pollution, flooding and accidents from the pits.


A part of Powharnal that has been remediated

Documents obtained by the paper showed rising water levels, contaminated lagoons and erosion - and little money left to stop the rot.

READ MORE: How park life is bringing the battle to save the planet to Castlemilk doorsteps

Powharnal, according to papers from Scottish Coal's liquidators, was filling up at a rate of half a metre a month and there was a plan to "direct the overflow into the River Ayr", the report said. Water was also accumulating at neighbouring Dalfad, where "lagoon cleaning needs to take place".

The mines were transferred to the Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, which along with partners like East Ayrshire Council and SNH has been trying to fix them.


A part of Powharnal still to be remediated

Work is far from finished. The Trust has major landscaping proposals for Powharnal after a huge job 'muck-shifting'. It is about to start consulting on Dalfad.

There is a bigger picture. The moors of East Ayrshire once gave the world the carbon that causes global warming. Now they will soak the same element up.

Scientists earlier this year celebrated after restoring more than 600 hectares of peat bog across the old coalfields onthe hillsides above pit villages such as Auchinleck and Mauchline.

Their work is part of a nationwide programme of peatland restoration, a critical effort to recreate the boggy carbon sinks that once made up much of Scotland.

HeraldScotland: francesca osowska chief executive of scottish natural heritage...photograph by michael

Francesa Osowska

Ms Osowska, speaking to The Herald on Sunday, stressed the importance of this kind of work.

She said: "Understanding the changes to come is the first step in being able to do something about it. In terms of climate change prevention the answer is peat and trees. Fundamentally, peatland and carbon sequestration really is a key element, as is native planting.

"We talk about green things sucking up the bad stuff, well all trees do that. We have lost about 68% of our tree cover across Scotland since its peak. We are gradually beginning to turn that round."