An Australian multinational-owned firm mining for gold in a natural beauty spot in Dumfries and Galloway has been criticised for a lack of transparency over its impact on the local environment.
Campaigners claim that exploration licences to drill in a 466-mile area for gold, silver, zinc, copper, and lead – granted in 2018 from the Crown Estates to JDH Exploration – were awarded without proper consultation with either environmental groups or locals. JDH Exploration is a firm owned by Walkabout Resources, based in Australia.
Drilling has now started in Blackcraig, which sits within Scotland’s first biosphere region – a designation granted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
The nearby Blackcraig Wood is a rich woodland of oak, birch, ash and wych elm on the sea cliffs and is inhabited by buzzards and rare butterflies. Locals fear that drilling at the site of old lead mines could pollute local springs and burns.
JDH Exploration insists it has completed a “water survey” and the firm would progress with a full environmental impact assessment if it finds minerals to mine.
But campaigners are angry about what they claim is a lack of transparency over plans. They have called for all environmental assessments to be made available and for local green groups to be consulted and involved.
The exploration area also covers the proposed Galloway National Park. The company admitted it had “not yet taken any specific measures” to consider the impact any mining could have on those proposals.
Concerns have also been raised about how the exploration licences, which cover an area from Newton Stewart to Castle Douglas and the Galloway Hills, were granted without wider consultation with environmental groups and locals.
Walkabout Resources is due to announce the results of its initial drilling in the coming weeks. But in response to requests from councillors to keep locals updated the firm said it will announce results of its exploration to the stock market before locals to “avoid any risk of insider trading”.
At a public meeting held last month – which was the first time many locals had heard about the plans in detail – fears were also raised that the community would not adequately benefit.
In response, JDH Exploration representatives claimed that local workers and businesses would benefit from “direct employment and supply chain opportunities” and there would be an agreed community benefit programme.
The Crown Estate and private landowners would be paid through royalties or purchase agreements, it added, with the Australian company’s shareholders in line for payouts if the firm was successful.
Another public meeting will be held on Wednesday 16 February, where concerned campaigners will demonstrate to draw attention to the impact of the mining in the local area.
Danny Alderslowe, of the Galloway Mining Action group, said: “There is a lack of clarity about what has happened in terms of an environmental impact assessment and that is what we are trying to get more information on now.
“I questioned whether that had been done at the last meeting and they have still not revealed that. If there is one, why are we not able to see it?
“They have already started work in Blackcraig, drilling 300 metres into the ground at the site of the old lead mines. People can see water running off the hills and they don’t know how this is affecting the burns and springs. They are scared.
“So there is a growing drum beat about this next public meeting. People have questions that they need to have answered. This is about transparency.”
He added: “Last November Scotland welcomed the world to COP26 to talk about how to address climate change across the globe.
“Now, just a few months later we’re discovering that we are being bulldozed by an Australian mining company with seemingly no regard to the impact on the environment. That can’t be right.”
Katie Hagmann – councillor for Mid Galloway and Wigtown West – said she will be supporting campaigners ahead of a public meeting on Wednesday about the plans.
Hagmann said she is “hugely concerned about any environmental impact this project may have now or in the future”.
“I have concerns about any loss of biodiversity,” Hagmann told The Ferret. “I sit on the board of the UNESCO Galloway & Southern Biosphere, so I know the positive and significant impact the partnership alone has within Galloway.”
She claimed JDH Exploration had spoken to the local press last year, but the firm’s first public meeting was held just last month, a discussion first promised in 2020.
As a result residents “are feeling they have not been kept informed”, she added.
Environmental groups, such as The Galloway Fisheries Trust, also said they had not had not “been formally notified or consulted on any of these projects”.
“Protecting the water quality of these special areas is paramount,” said Jamie Ribbons, a senior fisheries biologist for the Trust.
“Blackcraig, which has been identified as one of the areas being looked at, drains into some sensitive water environments including the Cree estuary. The estuary is an important habitat for many protected and rare fish species including the only surviving west coast of Scotland Sparling population.”
He added: “Historical mining has caused poor water quality and environmental damage in parts of Scotland so we are obviously very concerned about the potential impacts associated with any new mining developments taking place in Dumfries and Galloway.
“Without having any details of the planned mining works, we are unable to assess what impacts there could be.”
But JDH Exploration community liaison officer Nigel Bradley told The Ferret that it “encourages the attendance of local community members” at meetings and is planning to form a community engagement forum to inform future proposals.
Bradley said the “early-stage mineral exploration” will consist of “temporary and low-impact activities,” including soil sampling and low-impact drilling and claimed that mineral exploration has “an extremely low impact on the environment”.
“The firm will also provide updates via its stock exchange listing, whereby all information is publicly available to all at no delay, at the same time,” he said. “Interested parties can sign up at the company’s website to receive stock exchange updates as and when they become available.”
The Ferret has approached Dumfries and Galloway Council for comment.