The UK's biggest coal producer is at the centre of takeover speculation after it confirmed it had received a "highly-preliminary" approach.

UK Coal - the loss-making owner of seven deep mines, including Daw Mill near Atherstone - received details of the interest "some weeks ago" but said it had heard nothing since then.

The statement from the company, which acquired the former assets of British Coal, was in response to a recent rise in its share price. UK Coal shares were up almost ten per cent in the wake of the announcement, giving the business a market value of just over £200 million.

The attraction of extensive property interests - valued at £174 million in 2002 - could be one of the reasons for the approach at a company which last month unveiled losses of £51.6 million for its last financial year. UK Coal said it had asked the interested party for further clarification of its approach, but that it had received no response.

The statement said: "Some weeks ago the board received a highly preliminary and tentative approach regarding a possible offer for the company - this approach was subject to a number of conditions and pre-conditions.

"The company asked the relevant party for clarification in relation to a number of aspects of the approach; no such clarification has been received to date and, indeed, there has been no substantive response to the company's request for clarification."

The approach comes as new chief executive Gerry Spindler attempts to lead the company back to profitability by 2006.

Last month, he reported " significant progress" in reshaping and restructuring the business, including through the introduction of a new wage structure and a more structured, daily maintenance regime.

The moves come after the company's deep mines made losses of £37.8 million in 2004, following a drop in output to 12-million tonnes - from 14.8 million tonnes in 2003.

The company described many of the problems as " fundamental operating flaws."

Most of its output had already been sold before rising coal prices. UK Coal shares finished at 1361/2p up 103/4p.