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Wednesday, November 12, 1997 Published at 16:06 GMT


Could Devon be the new Klondike?

Devon, the county renowned for its fudge and cream teas, could soon also be famous as the site of England's first commercial gold mine.

Gold has been found in the South West for centuries - but never in large enough quantities to support profitable extraction.

However, that could all be about to change after a mining company, Crediton Minerals, found grains of the precious metal at a secret location near Crediton, east Devon.

The company now plans further exploration after yielding promising results from a £200,000 test drilling programme in the Crediton Trough, a 45km-long and 12km-wide valley.

"We may be in sight of a gold deposit of substance," the firm's chairman Jeremy Metcalfe told a news conference in Exeter, "We have found very elevated levels of gold, quite unique, and this has to be taken seriously."

[ image: Jeremy Metcalfe: promising tests]
Jeremy Metcalfe: promising tests
It will be at least two years before the company knows whether the gold can be mined economically."There is a huge amount of work to be done, but we are greatly encouraged by what we have found," said Mr Metcalfe.

But while some local people see a bonanza in prospect, others are concerned about the potential environmental impact of any mining operation. Linda Lever of the Mid Devon Green Party, said: "People are likely to be seduced by the thought of wealth suddenly. But I don't think that's what it's all about. I think it will be a question of a large company coming in and causing all sorts of havoc."

Mr Metcalfe said it was too early to know what sort of mining method might eventually be used, but a full environmental impact study would be done. "We shall be conducting our work in as an environmentally-friendly way as possible, and eventually hope that mining will bring jobs and prosperity to the area," he said.

[ image: Is there gold under these hills?]
Is there gold under these hills?
Dr Richard Scrivener, of the firm's exploration contractor, the British Geological Survey, said: "Essentially we are looking at native gold occurring in grains. I am very excited by this particular find. It is a very considerable enrichment. The indications are we have free metallic gold present in the rock."

He said tiny gold grains, some larger than a millimetre across, had been found in streams in the Crediton area.

Parent company Minmet, listed on Dublin's exploration exchange with 4,000 shareholders, announced the find last Wednesday. The company has interests in gold operations in Portugal, Ireland, Bolivia, Russia and the United States.

[ image: Linda Lever: fears environmental damage]
Linda Lever: fears environmental damage
The geology of the Crediton Trough is similar to areas in Queensland, Germany and central Europe where gold is mined. So far, the biggest gold find in the South West was a nugget weighing 56 grammes, found in the Carnon Valley, near Truro.

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