Just a stone’s throw from the picturesque hiking trails of Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park lies Scotland’s only commercial gold mine.
The Cononish project was embraced by the local community and championed by politicians, as well as investors who bought shares in its owner, London-listed Scotgold Resources.
But hopes that it will be able to produce gold for export or make fine jewelery in the coming decades have been cast in doubt after Scotgold warned last week it could clash with administration.
Near the Arrochar Alps, in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, lies Scotland’s only commercial gold mine.
The warning was not the only news that shook the mining industry last week.
Councilors have rejected a proposal to expand operations at Wales’ last opencast coal mine, Glan Lash in Carmarthenshire. And separately, a number of major insurance firms have ruled out providing cover for the controversial planned coal mine in West Cumbria.
Judging by these headlines, it may seem that the sector is in crisis.
So what went wrong? Is it still worth having a mining industry in the UK?
Mining in the British Isles has a rich heritage and dates back to the Bronze Age, over 4,000 years ago.
Later, the Romans came here in search of lead and copper.
In the south-west, Devon and Cornwall had some of the richest reserves of copper and tin on Earth during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Cornish industry was commemorated by author Winston Graham in his Poldark novels, which he began writing in the 1940s.
The books followed Ross Poldark, whose family made their fortune in fictional local copper mines, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The novels were adapted into a highly successful television series starring Aidan Turner.
However, when most ordinary people think of mining in the UK, they think of the coal mines across the country that were a driving force of the industrial revolution.
Coal production peaked in the 1980s. But the mining sector is now trying to reinvent itself as a driving force of the green industrial revolution.
It has also become, at least in the eyes of some politicians, a security issue in the same way that energy did when Russia invaded Ukraine and sent gas prices soaring.
Now the focus is on ensuring access to so-called “critical” minerals.
The Department of Business and Trade describes a critical minerals strategy published last year as improving “the resilience of our vital supply chains”, safeguarding the industry, increasing confidence in the UK’s energy transition and protecting national security. .
A number of mined metals, including lithium and tin, are considered crucial to Britain’s efforts to go green and could also provide raw materials for the local manufacturing of items such as car batteries.
The Cornish industry was commemorated by author Winston Graham in his Poldark novels, recently made into a hit television series starring Aidan Turner.
“Most people in the UK have become aware of their food, but currently no one is aware of their metals,” says James McFarlane, managing director of consultancy Mining Plus.
“People understand blood diamonds, but it’s not just about how they are mined from a human rights perspective but also from an environmental perspective.”
Last month, the UK Infrastructure Bank invested £24 million in private company Cornish Lithium to help extract the battery metal.
John Meyer, head of research at SP Angel, added that although large institutional investors are less likely to back smaller British mining companies, they have been “replaced by a new generation of more experienced and fast-growing managers.”
They include Sir Mick Davis, the former Xstrata boss whose Vision Blue fund has also invested in Cornish Lithium, and another investor, called Techmet, led by Brian Menell.
Jeremy Wrathall, founder of Cornish Lithium, added: ‘In Cornwall the industry is booming. We are developing a repository of essential metals needed for the energy transition.
‘The key here is security of supply, as well as creating new jobs and Cornish pride. Mining provides the UK with an important addition to the value of its economy: every tonne mined is a tonne not imported, every job we create is a job not exported.’
British geology, McFarlane explains, is not the problem: “We have big rocks and lots of them.” In his view, the biggest hurdle now is scaling up the many small businesses that often struggle to raise the huge funds needed to get a project off the ground.
Sirius Minerals investors remember this well.
The company, which at its peak had around 85,000 individual investors, almost went bankrupt when it attempted to build an extensive fertilizer mine beneath the North York Moors National Park.
Sirius was rescued by mining giant Anglo American, who renamed it the Woodsmith Project.
Natural potassium fertilizer is another critical material that will be needed to produce food for the world’s growing population.
For all the variety of mining in the UK, it appears that it is the projects that focus on the future, rather than simply remembering the past, that will continue to attract the most support.
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