Watch: Opposition to Sperrins gold mine intensifies as locals blockade Dalradian tour

Many in Greencastle remain strongly opposed to a gold mine 1km from its Primary School, despite Dalradian's efforts to bring them on board.

Tour of underground tunnels
Tour of underground tunnels

Keen to portray a “spirit of genuine co-operation and transparency” the Canadian firm said it has taken 236 people on a site tour, with a waiting list of 200 more.

But the group Save Our Sperrins has claimed Dalradian hasn’t provided enough “factual information” on its plans - so the Mail took up the company’s offer of a tour.

As well as learning some important facts about the project, the Mail also found itself in the middle of a surprise protest involving around 10 locals, who blocked the road in both directions.

Tour of underground tunnels

They denied membership of the group Save Our Sperrins, and said they just wanted a meeting in their village to discuss concerns around the use of cyanide; dust from the proposed dry stack tailings system and how compounds contained within that 25m high mound would be managed so as not to affect the village’s water supplies or air quality.

Speaking for the band of locals, one man told Dalradian staff: “You have to understand it from the locals’ point of view. This isn’t a small scale process. Even the plant that you are currently talking about is pretty massive.”

After some discussion, an agreement was reached that both parties would consider a meeting.

Dalradian said most of the people it has consulted are keen to see it go ahead, while opposing Greencastle residents say almost three quarters of villagers don’t.

Tour of underground tunnels

Indeed, on the tour, there was a mix of opinion among visitors who had come from far and wide to take part.

What we did learn is that the site for the gold mine is on top of a hill just outside Greencastle, and the dry tailings stack and waste dump at issue will be visible from the homes below.

Dalradian said the proposed mine has been designed to be unobtrusive, with the processing plant hidden behind trees.

It also emerged that the ground below contains a ‘phenomenal amount’ of high grade ore, and that Dalradian already know where much of the gold is, with a geologist able to name over 10 identified veins of gold.

In the area since 2010, the company has already conducted 130km of drilling and underground exploration from its Camcosy site.

“All of this project is to support the new planning application for the new mine and to constrain the best way of doing it and the whole economics of it,” said the company’s water expert. “It’s really to design the plant.”

The Mail also learned that they will not use cyanide tailings ponds, which can be harmful to wildlife, but a dry stack tailings system instead.

This means the material that is left after the gold has been removed from extracted and crushed seams with cyanide will be “detoxified” - although it will still contain cyanide according to their water expert.

He also said: “The processing plant I would say, will be managed by a section of the Environment Agency, at specific sections.”

Water management ponds have also been planned to allow the company to test water draining from the site for harmful toxins.

Dalradian staff also said wells on site will monitor water levels and the cone of depression.

Many questions on the day were centred around cyanide and how the company would prevent this leeching into the ground water, but the company was quick to point out that this method of gold extraction was the least environmentally damaging.

They also said they will be bound by environmental rules and protections, overseen by government and the EU, adding that they have signed up to the voluntary International Cyanide Management Code.

“We’ve signed up to it, but it’s not something we have actually started,” said a member of staff.

“It’s voluntary to sign it and we’re going to sign it. We have to draft a cyanide management plan, which we’re doing at the minute. Obviously everything has to be in place, if and when we get the permit.”

The company is also undertaking an Environmental Impact Assessment, which will be submitted with its planning application this autumn. This will include estimates on the mine’s impact on wildlife.

Dalradian know “there’s a few people who are really anxious about it, and they want to make their concerns heard”, but a Canadian member of staff said there are also people “who won’t”.

She admitted: “People expected there to be a lot of detail, but it takes a lot of time to get the answers.

“You design the project and then you do your environmental assessment. Even today there’s still things that we are refining.”

Questions remain unanswered around the amount of rock that will be removed to get the gold out, the exact amount of cyanide that remains in the mixture returned underground - although Dalradian say it is less than that contained in a handful of almonds; and exactly how they will prevent any toxins they return underground from entering the water table.

The exact economics around the project are still in development, and although the Mail asked for an exact breakdown of the 400 jobs, this too remains unclear.

In a statement, Dalradian said: “We have been clear that Dalradian wishes to run a world-class gold mine in every respect from production to environmental stewardship to community investment and relationships.

“We welcome open, constructive and respectful dialogue with all parties.

“Our relationships with all local communities are very important to us and we are actively carrying out a programme of engagement with local communities near the mine.”

They referred us back to this response when asked if every householder in Greencastle had been asked for their opinion.