Gold strike in Devon may net mining company a fortune

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The Independent Online
Gold prospectors who have spent the summer exploring a Devon valley may set up England's first commercial gold mine, it was confirmed yesterday. Louise Jury considers its chances of success.

A mining company said yesterday that it hoped it was on the verge of a gold bonanza after spending pounds 200,000 on drilling in east Devon.

Jeremy Metcalfe, chairman of Crediton Minerals, said another two years of investigations would be needed before it knew whether the gold could be mined economically.

But, announcing the company's results so far, Mr Metcalfe said officials were "greatly encouraged by what we have found. It is too early to say whether we are talking bonanza, but as chairman of the company I certainly hope so. We have found very elevated levels of gold, quite unique, and this has to be taken seriously."

Crediton Minerals, whose parent company is Dublin-based Minmet, carried out drilling in an area called the Crediton Trough, to the west of Exeter, which is 300 million years-old, 28 miles long, seven miles wide and 900 metres deep.

The area was pinpointed after tiny gold grains were found in streams in the Crediton area and as a result of geological mapping carried out by the Government-funded British Geological Survey over the past 15 years.

Dr Richard Scrivener, who has headed the survey work in that area, said that although there were existing planning permissions for gold mines in Northern Ireland and Scotland, gold had not been found in these sort of newer rocks in the South-west of England before, adding: "It's very exciting, scientifically."

Mr Metcalfe said it was still too early to know what sort of mining method might be used to extract the gold, but a full environmental impact study would be done. "We shall be conducting our work in as environmentally- friendly way as possible, and eventually hope that mining will bring jobs and prosperity to the area."

However, Maurice Spurway, of Exeter Friends of the Earth, said environmentalists fear economic considerations might encourage a form of open-cast mining which would be a major scar on the landscape in an area which is very dependent on tourism. "It is ringing some alarm bells. We need to know more," he said.

Bob Edwards, chairman of Crediton council, said there was concern about the environment, but added: "There could be many benefits, including jobs and trade for local businesses. It is certainly very exciting."

Minmet has interests in gold operations in Portugal, Ireland, Bolivia, Russia and the United States. The geology of the Crediton Trough is similar to areas in central Europe where gold is mined.