2 Feb 2023

Foulden Maar: Dunedin City Council saves fossil site from mining by buying land

4:09 pm on 2 February 2023
Foulden Maar Drilling Site

Foulden Maar was to be mined by Plaman Resources, but the foreign-owned company went into receivership in 2019. Photo: University of Otago

Dunedin City Council has reached an agreement to save a nationally significant fossil site from commercial mining by buying the land.

Foulden Maar is the site of a crater lake from 23 million years ago with the diatomite of the lake preserving a fossil treasure trove and a climate record covering 100,000 years from that period.

Foulden Maar was to be mined by Plaman Resources, but the foreign-owned company went into receivership in 2019.

More than three years ago, the council signalled its intent to buy the 42 hectares owned by the company under the Public Works Act in November 2019.

The council confirmed it has now reached an agreement with the receivers of Plaman Resources to buy Foulden Maar mining site.

Plaman Resources, whose main creditor is Goldman Sachs, purchased the site in 2015.

Plaman Resources' receivers, Neale Jackson and Brendon Gibson of Calibre Partners, have surrendered the mining permits for the site as a condition of the sale.

It cost $924,000, including $864,000 for the land and mining permit and $60,000 for statutory entitlements under the Public Works Act.

Council chief executive Sandy Graham said Foulden Maar was a globally significant site.

"The council has been working since 2019 to protect the significance of Foulden Maar," Graham said.

"We're delighted to have reached this agreement, which will prevent any mining taking place and preserve this very special scientific and conservation site into the future."

It is believed the agreement relates only to the existing 42 hectare site of the mining permit, not the wider lake site, which sits under a neighbouring farm and which Plaman Resources was looking at buying.

Campaigners rejoice over announcement

Otago University palaeontologist Dr Nic Rawlence has been campaigning to save the site, and said it was fantastic news.

"It's the right decision and it will ensure that one of the most important fossil sites in New Zealand, which has got great potential for new discoveries and discovering new pages of in the book of New Zealand's biological heritage, is preserved and will be there for future generations of scientists."

He did not rule out the potential for fossil tourism in the future.

"You can have fossil excavations there where volunteers can come and work with scientists. You could also have a pit where families could come and find fossils with their kids - very similar to what occurs at important fossil sites in Australia," Rawlence said.

But for now, he was delighted to know the site was not going to be mined.

Local community group Save Foulden Maar was thrilled to hear the site was safe after launching their campaign more than three years ago.

Group spokesperson Shane Loader said the goal had always been to ensure Foulden Maar was protected in perpetuity for future generations.

"To see the mining rights extinguished and agreement for Dunedin City Council to purchase the land is an incredible outcome for everyone involved in the campaign," Loader said.

A community petition attracted more than 11,000 signatures to save the site, with the campaign drawing crowds to public meetings and support from public figures, including Helen Clark.

"Scientists have not been able to access Foulden Maar while it was under control of the receivers, so the first priority for Dunedin City Council needs to be getting scientists back on site" Loader said.

"Beyond that, we want to be part of any decisions on how Foulden Maar will be managed in the future. Our community already has a vision that includes a focus on enabling scientific research, avoiding high-impact tourism, and investing in the nearby Middlemarch Museum.

"Today, we are all celebrating this major win and are grateful to both Dunedin City Council staff and the previous mayor who fought so hard to make this happen."

There is currently no public access to Foulden Maar, but that is expected to be considered in the near future

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