Gold miner hopeful mining will be allowed on conservation land

3:00 pm on 19 June 2020

After speaking with the Conservation Ministry Eugenie Sage, a West Coast gold miner says he's hopeful mining could be allowed on conservation land.

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Alluvial gold mining targets deposits of silt and rock left by rivers and floodwaters. Photo:

Goldminer and West Coast Regional Council chairman Allan Birchfield met with the minister last month to present arguments for alluvial goldmining on DOC land, which he has advocated for many years.

Alluvial deposits are loose materials in rivers and waterways, like rocks, gravel and silt - which can contain gold in areas the heavy metal is naturally found. Proponents argue it is the most environmentally friendly way of extracting gold.

Sage met the council chairman and chief executive Mike Meehan before she launched the $15 million Predator-Free Te Kinga project at Lake Brunner last month.

Allan Birchfield winnows the tiny gold flakes on a piece of paper to shake any dirt out; the flakes are smelted in a ceramic pot (crucible) in a small gas-fired furnace.

Allan Birchfield winnows tiny gold flakes of alluvial gold on a piece of paper to shake any dirt out; the flakes are smelted in a ceramic pot in a small gas-fired furnace. Photo: Lois Williams / LDR

"She basically said to us, 'okay, tell us the areas where you want to go on the map, and we'll have a look at it'," Birchfield said.

"There are half a dozen sites from Ross to Westport that we will be suggesting; they're all historic mining areas that have been worked in the past, but there is still a lot of gold in there."

Meehan, who tendered his resignation from his council position in May to head the new Institutue for Minerals to Materials Research, was now putting together maps and a list of potential goldmining locations, with input from Minerals West Coast and iwi.

Opening up new claims would potentially benefit tangata whenua as well as the economy, Meehan said.

Mike Meehan

Mike Meehan Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

"What people may not know is that alluvial goldmining is the main source of pounamu (greenstone) for Ngati Waewae, and the carving industry -- there is an agreement that if goldminers find pounamu they supply it to the manawhenua for a finders' fee."

Alluvial claims covered relatively small areas, and miners were bonded to remediate the land after they had finished, he said.

"There is always room for improvement but the days of people wrecking the land and walking away are long gone."

The minister had been willing to listen and engage, which was a positive step, Meehan said. He was hoping to have the list of potential new goldmines on Sage's desk by the end of next week.

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