Farmers and villagers hit out at plans to hunt for gold in beauty spot


Locals are concerned about environmental damage. (Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image)
Locals are concerned about environmental damage. (Getty Images/Lonely Planet Image)

A plan to search for precious metals including gold in the hills of Mid-Ulster is angering locals.

Slieve Gallion, which forms part of the Sperrin Mountains, has become the latest focus for an Australian mining company carrying out gold exploration.

Earlier this year, Walkabout Resources said it had made “very exciting” discoveries while searching for precious metals in the area.

In March, Walkabout said it had found the presence of cobalt-copper-silver in the area while searching for gold.

It said analysis of regional data for Slieve Gallion meant it was one of the highest priority areas in Northern Ireland for base metal and gold exploration.

While the company insists the work being carried out on Slieve Gallion is at the embryonic stage, people living in the tiny village of Desertmartin, which sits at the foot of the mountain, are not happy.



Hill-walking in the Sperrin mountainsHill-walking in the Sperrin mountains

Hill-walking in the Sperrin mountains

A series of community meeting in recent weeks demonstrated the depth of feeling on the issue.

Robert James Austin said: “I think this will be an awful wrecking match for all they might get out of it.

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“I like those mountains because I can get up in the morning and look out at them.

“I wouldn’t like to see them destroyed and I don’t think there would be enough jobs created that would be worth it.”

Derek McKinney is a farmer as well as an Ulster Unionist councillor for the area.

He said: “I think people will be concerned until they actually know what is going to happen.

“Farmers I have spoken to are concerned about the effect the product used for mining will have on the water courses and the surrounding area.

“This is what I am hearing from the farming community, who are also worried about the natural beauty of the area being damaged.

“Even with wind farms, there has been an issue with the character of Slieve Gallion being lost.”

Marion McIntyre was equally concerned about the possible damage.

She said: “I don’t like the idea that our environment could be destroyed. I think the mountain should be left the way it is – it is part of our natural heritage.

“I have a lot of family living around here and we all think the same.

“I know they will talk about jobs, but how long will those jobs last? Yet the damage will be done and that might last a lot longer than the jobs.

“There are a lot of walkways up there which are well used and I would be concerned that those would be taken from people.”

Many members of the local farming community are particularly concerned about the potential damage the exploration work could do to the water supplies.

Nearly 800 people who have concerns about the prospect of mining Slieve Gallion have signed a petition.

A spokesman for Protect Slieve Gallion, the group behind the petition, said: “We are small group of people from the Desertmartin, Moneymore and Draperstown areas.

“We were formed after a series of public meetings that were held in Desertmartin back a few weeks ago to find out more information regarding what the plans were for this area.

“What we heard at those meetings drove us to start looking into the issue of this further and this has us really afraid of what could potentially lay ahead should this get going.

“The implications to the health of the people of this area is enormous, not to mention the devastation to the countryside and effect it will have on housing prices.

“This can only be seen as a short-term gain for foreign investors, which will inevitably change the lives of our future generations.”

A cross-party delegation of Mid-Ulster MLAs met with the Department for the Economy, Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the Geological Survey NI after the public meetings.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: “People from the local community have expressed a number of concerns ranging from environmental issues, health concerns and the impact that this will have on the general wellbeing of the community from the activities of the international companies involved in prospecting in the area.

“Officials from the agencies have committed to ensuring that any activity will be strictly regulated and assurances sought about the impact on the community before any follow-up work is authorised.

“However, many in the local community will be sceptical about such assurances and will need more convincing. They have justified concerns about the proposed activities and the future intentions of the companies involved.

“In the absence of a functioning Executive, I will continue to lobby the relevant agencies on their behalf.”

DUP MLA Keith Buchanan said he would reserve his judgment on the issue until he received more information.

He said: “I wasn’t able to attend the meeting with the Department organised by Pasty McGlone because of another appointment but I am due to meet with Walkabout Resources later.

“I am well aware of the concerns my constituents have but I think it is important to have all the available information before I make up my mind.”

Sinn Fein MLA Ian Milne said his party’s position on gold mining and processing was set out at the Ard Fheis last year.

He said: “Sinn Fein recognises the environmental damage caused by precious metals mining and the extraction of Ireland’s non-renewable natural resources with little or no benefit to local communities.”

A spokesman for Walkabout Resources said work on Slieve Gullion to date has consisted of soil sampling and a limited airborne survey to aid in the determination for potential mineral deposits. He added: “In this early phase of exploration, our plans within our awarded licence areas, only extend to collecting soil and rock chip samples at surface to shallow depths and on a very limited scale.

“Preliminary exploration work has been carried out in these licence areas. No chemicals of any type are used in the work we are doing.

“In any area where work is carried out, Walkabout will meet with relevant stakeholders and landowners to inform them of our work. We should stress again, this is merely early stage soil sampling as per our licence.

“Walkabout will assess the results of its exploration surveys before making any further decisions about how to proceed with our work in Northern Ireland.”

He said: “I wasn’t able to attend the meeting with the Department organised by Pasty McGlone because of another appointment but I am due to meet with Walkabout Resources later.

“I am well aware of the concerns my constituents have but I think it is important to have all the available information before I make up my mind.”

Sinn Fein MLA Ian Milne said his party’s position on gold mining and processing was set out at the Ard Fheis last year.

He said: “Sinn Fein recognises the environmental damage caused by precious metals mining and the extraction of Ireland’s non-renewable natural resources with little or no benefit to local communities.”

A spokesman for Walkabout Resources said work on Slieve Gullion to date has consisted of soil sampling and a limited airborne survey to aid in the determination for potential mineral deposits.

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