PLANS to boost production at a massive open-air coal mine have been threatened – by water voles.
Bosses at the Muir Dean mine in Fife want to extract an extra 750,000 tonnes of coal a year.
But local planners are insisting that work will have to stop if water voles or red squirrels are discovered at the Crossgates site.
They are also demanding that owners ATH Resources create “bat commuting” areas at the mine.
The mine’s owners already face “restructuring” and local community groups claim the animal-friendly rules could cost badly-needed jobs.
The 180-hectare mine was opened in 2008 and ATH hoped to extract two million tonnes of coal in four-and-a-half years.
They want permission to extend the life of the mine, which employs 70 people and is said to create a further 88 job in the local area, by almost three years.
Fife Council’s South West area committee has backed the plans but proposed tough conditions designed to protect local wildlife.
One rule is for operations to cease if a red squirrel or water voal is spotted on the site.
A committee report stated: “A draft condition has been included to ensure all work stops and surveys/mitigation measures proposed should evidence of either species be found on site.”
Councillors also want a “badger protection plan” for the mine.
This should include “the removal of the two existing setts and the creation of an artificial one in a more suitable location”.
The safety and wellbeing of bats also gets attention from the committee.
The report adds: “Further mitigation measures include the retention of an existing bat house and bat boxes and the installation of a further 10 bat boxes.”
The owners of the mine should also carry out “substantial landscape planting and restoration of Muir Row burn to create additional bat feeding/commuting area”.
On top of that, “no tree felling shall be permitted to take place between March and September inclusive” adds the report.
A spokesman for the Crossgates Gala, a community group which is supported by the mine, said: “The mine itself financially helps the community with a lot of funding.
“If there is anything which will stop the mine doing its job it will have an impact on the whole community which will be detrimental.”
He added: “They’ve got enough problems as it is without these rules affecting them as well.
“They’ve never had problems with red squirrels before, I don’t see what the issue is.
“I think they should provide some sort of evidence about how these animals are affected in the first place.”
Doncaster-based ATH wants to extend to an additional area of 25.7 hectares, which would mean restoration of the site is finished by 2017.
The company has not yet commented on the wildlife rules.
But it has already revealed that it is in discussions with key stakeholders about a proposed refinancing plan.
A statement from the company said: “On 5 October 2012, the company announced that it was in discussions with key stakeholders to secure support for a proposed refinancing plan.
It stated: “The company has appointed Deloitte LLP to advise on all restructuring options that may be available and to assist the board in considering the merit of any proposals from parties who may be interested in investing or acquiring the business.”
Responding to the council committee’s proposals, a spokesman for the company said: “ATH continues to work with the council and with all local stakeholders.”
Jim Birrell, Senior Manager of Development & Buildings at the council,
said: “Council officers have worked closely with the applicant on their proposal which has still to be reported to the Cowdenbeath Area Committee and the Council’s Planning committee.
“By law, the council has to include certain conditions when a development of this type is proposed including those to protect certain animal species and the applicant is fully supportive of these conditions.”