Report by Kate Walby
A community is rallying against proposals to bring metal mining back to rural areas of Galloway.
In the Autumn of 2021, residents were surprised to find drilling works taking place near the small settlement of Blackcraig.
Australian-owned minerals developer Walkabout Resources were carrying out exploration operations due to the area's rich history of producing high grade zinc, lead and silver.
Samples collected have been sent to a laboratory for analysis - a process that may take several months.
Whether Walkabout Resources will choose to continue works is currently unclear. But the strength of feeling in the community is palpable.
The Facebook page 'Galloway Against Mining!' has attracted 1,300 members since it was established in January.
They argue a mining operation would have a detrimental impact on the environment, tourism, local wellbeing and the landscape.
"We’re a group of people who want to preserve the environment and the land for future generations," said campaigner Julie Yson.
"Newton Stewart [...] is called Gateway to the Galloway Hills and we’d like it to continue being called Gateway to the Galloway Hills and not Gateway to the Galloway Mines."
The area's mining heritage dates back at least as far as the late 18th century, when a soldier digging a track struck lead.
"The resulting mine stayed open for 30 years, producing high quality and highly valuable metal."
While campaigner and Blackcraig resident Billy McWhirter accepts the potential value of the resources beneath his feet, he argues this is exceeded by the value of the natural landscape, which is used for cycling, tourism, horse riding and wildlife habitat.
Responding to accusations of NIMBYism, Mr McWhirter laughed: "That’s quite true. But there are places where things don’t belong and I don’t think Blackcraig is the right place.”
"The impact now will be far, far greater than the days the mines were being used," added fellow campaigner Margaret Shankland.
"The road system is just not suitable for large vehicles."
The campaign is growing in profile to the extent national treasure and international celebrity Joanna Lumley has lent her voice after being asked to read a poem written by Ms Yson.
"I did little fairy story about what was happening out here and it was of great surprise that the day after, Joanna’s agent sent a lovely recording of her reading it along with her good wishes," said Ms Yson.
In response to the opposition, a spokesperson from Walkabout Resources provided the following statement:
"As part of the process of drilling at Blackcraig, the company undertook an internal review and engaged with external environmental consultants regarding possible impacts, it also submitted a water survey in support of the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency licence application for the Blackcraig drilling programme. The company conducts all of its exploration activities with due regard to the world’s best practice industry standards for environmental protection and safeguards.
"JDH is exploring for a 'commercially economic resource'. The commercial viability of any resource found is dependent on many factors and the conclusions of a number of extensive assessments. These assessments would be published, along with a comprehensive Environmental and Social Impact Assessment. This process of exploration and evaluation can last anywhere from 5 to 15 years. A decision about any viable mining is a number of years away.
"When it comes to communicating JDH’s activity in the area, as often as we can, we do so directly with community members and also through the Ward Elected Members and Community Councillors as representatives of the community, as well as proactively engaging with a range of interest groups. We held a community engagement meeting on 16th February 2022, which was well attended.
"Dates are being finalised for another community meeting with the aim of creating a Community Engagement Forum. Questions raised from the community meeting held are added to the FAQs on the company’s website. Questions and detailed responses from February's meeting are in the process of being finalised before being uploaded imminently.