Famous for its beaches, pasties and “mining hero” Poldark, Cornwall is the most south-westerly county of the UK and has a rich mining heritage dating back to the Bronze Age, when it was discovered that incorporating small amounts of tin in to copper made it easier to work than pure copper. In the period 1700-1914 the region was key in driving the creation of England’s industrial economy. Initially alluvial deposits of tin were worked but when technology improved there was a move to underground mining of mineralised lodes to exploit rich depsoits of tin and copper. In the 18th century, the Cornubian Orefield was the centre of the mining world – producing more copper and tin than anywhere else across the globe. Its dominance continued until the turn of the 20th century, when falling metal prices and cheaper mines around the world took over. Tin mining persisted longer than other commodities but the collapse of the tin price in the 1990s led to the closure of South Crofty, the last operating metal mine in Cornwall, in 1998.
During its time as the mining capital of the world, Cornwall was home to many inventions and scientific institutions, including the first steam-powered engine invented by Richard Trevithick and the world-renowned Camborne School of Mines – which today remains one of the top mining schools across the globe.
Cornwall’s landscape has been shaped by mining, and the industry is ingrained to the culture of the county, so much so that UNESCO designated 20,000 hectares of it a World Heritage Site in 2006. Perhaps due to this legacy, public perceptions of the mining industry in the southwest are strongly positive, with a 2011 report suggesting that the majority of local residents believe the reopening of mines would be a significant socio-economic boost to a county which has been forced to rely heavily on tourism in recent decades.
Current extractive industry
Since the twentieth century the region’s mining industry has been dominated by the mining of china clay. China clay, otherwise known as kaolin, is an alteration product produced during weathering of minerals within granitic bodies. Cornwall has large, high-quality deposits of kaolin which are important on a global scale and are worked by Imerys. Kaolin is used as an opacifier in paint and paper and is also used in ceramics. Quarrying for dimension stone and aggregate also still occurs in the SW region.
Very recently, the southwest is beginning to see a resurgence in its metal mining industry. Old metal mines were closed due to plummeting metal prices rather than a lack of ore, and modern exploration techniques have never been employed on the region – suggesting the Cornubian Orefield still has much potential.
- Cornwall Resources are exploring for tin and tungsten in north Cornwall and have returned promising interceptions from their preliminary drill programme
- Strongbow Resources have gained permission from the Environment Agency to de-water South Crofty
- Wolf Minerals operate the Drakelands Tungsten Mine near Plymouth, opened in 2015 (currently seeking funding)
Cornwall is also well-endowed in potential solar, wind and wave energy and the council is highly supportive of renewable energy projects within the county. Of particular interest to Cornish Lithium is the potential for geothermal energy: the high proportion of radiogenic elements in the Cornish granites means that the geothermal gradient is much higher than elsewhere in the UK but has never before been commercially exploited. Three projects are currently planned to take advantage of geothermal heat and power:
- United Downs Deep Geothermal Project: the team are drilling boreholes in to the Porthtowan Fault Zone to a depth of 4.5km to test the site’s potential for producing geothermal heat and power
- Eden Project – In partnership with Cornwall-based EGS Energy, the Eden Project have planning permission for a 3-4MW geothermal power plant on the Eden Project site and are currently raising money to finance drilling
- Penzance Pool – funded by a £1.4 million ERDF grant, the Jubilee Pool will be heated using geothermal energy. Geothermal drilling is being carried out by Geothermal Engineering Limited, and is due to be completed for the 2019 season.
A recent report by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership highlights mining as one of ten key sectors that could play a critical role in growing the region’s economy. Read the Cornwall LEP document here.
Cornish Lithium strive to be as environmentally responsible as possible, and are fully supportive of these initiatives: they represent fantastic opportunities for the county.