The crisis has already forced the Scottish government to reverse a decision to wind up its opencast coal task force last week, and prompted a bitter political row. The task force, involving governments, councils and trade unions, will now reconvene next year to try and stem the loss of jobs and ensure that ravaged land is restored.
Hargreaves Services, a Durham-based coal company, has warned that falling coal prices will lead to a big drop in profits next year. This triggered a 14 per cent drop in its share price and reports that it would have to make cutbacks at the seven opencast mines it operates in East Ayrshire, Fife, South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway.
The company employs 500 people in Scotland, over 300 of them in East Ayrshire. It has also taken over the responsibility for looking after seven other defunct opencast mines, after the collapse of two major coal firms in 2013.
"I am angry that despite repeated warnings we are facing another crisis in the opencast coal sector in Scotland,” said Willie Rennie, the Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP who leads the Scottish Liberal Democrats.