Ben Lui: gold in the hills

Ben Lui: gold in the hills

A gold rush could be about to take place at the foot of one of the southern Highlands’ top climbers’ destinations.

A new application for a ten-year licence to mine for gold at Cononish, in the shadow of Ben Lui, has been submitted by an Australian-owned company. If granted, it would mean the resumption of gold extraction at the mine, last used more than ten years ago.

Silver and other minerals are also believed to be buried beneath the 880m (2,887ft) Beinn Chuirn, an outlier of the 1,130m (3,703ft) Ben Lui.

Estimates by Scotgold Resources, owners of the mine near Tyndrum in Strathfillan, put the potential gold reserves at 154,000 ounces, with a further 589,000 ounces of silver. At current gold prices of around $1,044 an ounce, that would put the value of gold reserves alone at more than £100m with £5.7m-worth of silver in the mountain.

The Cononish gold mine. Photo: Helen Wilkinson CC-BY-SA-2.0

The Cononish gold mine. Photo: Helen Wilkinson CC-BY-SA-2.0

Scotgold is now looking for finance for the scheme, including an initial public offering aimed at injecting £12m into the project to enable mining to restart. The company also has its eyes on other sites within the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs national park where geological surveys suggest there could be commercially viable reserves of precious metals.

The application at Cononish is for a ten-year licence to extract up to 72,000 tonnes of ore per year, followed by reinstatement. Works would include underground mine workings, service and production buildings, plant, a waste storage area, pond and gauging station, access roads, bridge, car parking and would involve the diversion of a burn.

The company says between 50 and 60 jobs would be created, mostly for local residents.

The mine lies within the Ben Lui national nature reserve and Scottish Natural Heritage is being consulted, as is the Mountaineering Council of Scotland, the John Muir Trust, the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society, Friends of Loch Lomond and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.