Scotland’s largest private landowner, Richard the 10th Duke of Buccleuch, has become embroiled in a fierce battle with an Australian company over who should profit from exploiting potentially huge underground coal reserves.
An eleventh-hour intervention by the Duke’s staff forced Dumfries and Galloway Council to withdraw a bid by Melbourne-based New Age Exploration (NAE) to do exploratory drilling for coal at Canonbie, near the English border. Buccleuch Estate has its own, conflicting plans for extracting gas from the same coalbed.
The estate has been accused by a local councillor of “bullying” NAE to protect its commercial interests. But the estate insists the allegation is unfounded, and that it was just exercising its legitimate rights.
The Canonbie coal wars are erupting as the coal industry elsewhere in Scotland is collapsing. Two companies have gone bust, leaving as many as 15 opencast mines across the country without enough money to clean them up.
Environmental groups, local communities and leading politicians have called for a ban on new coal developments until the crisis is resolved. “Dumfries and Galloway seems to be in a world of its own where companies are competing to rip yet more fossil fuels out of the ground,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.