Wolf Minerals Courts Parishes And County Councillors

Thursday, 4 December, 2014

Wolf Minerals Courts Parishes And County Councillors, As The Hemerdon Tungsten Mine Moves Closer To Production

“What’s not to like?” says Russell Clark, the managing director of Wolf Minerals, as he briefs journalists about all the latest developments at the Hemerdon tungsten project in Devon, which is now only months away from first production.

“What’s not to like?” He’s talking about the economics of Hemerdon when he makes that remark, and the ease of doing business in the UK, but as anyone who follows the mining sector knows, and as plenty of people outside the sector like to remind us, the answer to that question can often be: quite a lot.

In the case of Hemerdon, Wolf is helped somewhat because the development is taking place at the site of an old mine which was briefly worked during World War Two. It’s also right next door to some operating clay mines, which send multitudes of trucks down the Devon roads every day. So the addition of Wolf’s one truck per day, laden with tungsten concentrate, is hardly likely to impact greatly on the settled rhythms of daily life.

But it takes more than that to gain acceptance from a local community, as Russell is only too well aware. Hemerdon will be the first new metal mine in England for over forty years, so he knows he will be being closely watched by interested parties right across the political and environmental spectrum.

He’s got the permits, he’s got the funding, and he’s now a third of the way into construction. What he needs to do now is to make sure his community and social responsibility programmes don’t let the side down.

To that end, the company has a dedicated budget and a dedicated senior employee on site full time in Devon.

But it’s no simple task. “There are three parish councils”, says Russell. “We work hard to maintain these relationships. We have newsletters going into these communities on a monthly basis. I’m firmly of the opinion that we need to be a part of this community and not a pain in the ass. And we’ve hired a local guy to work on this from inside the company. We don’t want this to happen by accident.”

Wolf plans to be mining on site for many years to come, so keeping the relationship with the locals sweet makes a lot of sense. And this works at all levels.

“We’ve had to move bridal paths”, says Russell, “we’ve had to move footpaths, we’ve had to move bats, we’ve had to move badgers, and we’ve had to move foxes”. The trailblazing nature of Hemerdon meant that all that was done under a regulatory framework that had never been tried before.

“The environmental permit that we got for the mine waste facility was the first of its kind in the UK”, says Russell. And the company’s response to the creation of new precedents? – “We have more safety and environmental staff than we have mining engineers.”

So, what will be the long-term payoff of all this work? That can be looked at in two ways. First, the environmental and social impact of Hemerdon will be kept to a minimum. At the moment the company will even cease crushing operations at the weekend in order to comply with a noise-related stipulation in the license, although that stipulation applied to a piece of kit different to that which was eventually installed, and the company is therefore trying to have that requirement overturned.

Which brings us to the second point. Russell talks very favourably of the company’s working relationship with the parishes and the County Council. In the company’s latest presentation there’s a picture of various local dignitaries breaking ground on the project last summer with suitably gleaming silver coloured spades.

With the community work Wolf already has under its belt, any lingering sense of hostility or suspicion at the new mining company on the block is certainly not manifest at the official level. So will the company get the ban on weekend crushing overturned? In all probability, yes.

The County Council has indicated that it would be in favour, but that the parishes must be consulted in the correct manner. And that is a process that is currently underway. Further down the line, Wolf may want to expand the footprint of its open pit.

That too will involve consultations at the local level. Going into the community on a regular basis as Wolf does will surely smooth that process.