Saturday, 26 May 2007


I am going to talk about quarries this week. I’ll try to link the subject to gardening somewhere along the way. For the past two weeks the headlines of the Inish Times has been about the possible mining around the peninsula of gold and other valuable metals. There are arguments for and against the idea of mining and no doubt the issue will be ongoing for a while until a compromise is found. I’m usually quite opinionated about environmental issues but in this case I will just talk about my own experiences of quarries.


I grew up in an area in England that was heavily involved in excavation and mining. For a start there was a disused sand quarry at the bottom of my garden. Most of my childhood was taken up enjoying the varied wildlife and plants that grew in the hollows left after the sand was removed. There were large ponds that housed frogs, newts and small fish and I spent many a happy hour trying to catch as many as I could to put in my bucket.

Disused stone or sand quarries can be a haven for plants and animals. Take the Eden project over in southern England for example, that was built on an old gravel quarry. I progressed from just playing in the sand and went to work for the company who owned the quarries, this time I was working in the offices of a working quarry a few miles down the road. For seven years I looked out onto massive heaps of washed sand from the office window. When the weather was dry and the wind blew, everything got covered with very fine silica sand. This wasn’t seen as a problem at the time but since then research has been done to link silica with serious lung problems. The quarry was in the country when it started so it wasn’t a problem, well only to the workforce, but over the years the town has moved out to meet it. Many arguments are ongoing as to the responsibility of the dust falling in and on the local residents. The quarry owners are using the argument that they were there first, so ultimately are not responsible for any ill health or structural damage caused.

The disused quarry behind my old house is now a huge housing estate. Some of the properties have the unusual feature of a 40-foot sheer sandstone wall at the bottom of their small gardens. (There, I made a link to gardening)

The other form of mining in the area was “Black Gold”, or coal, as it is more commonly known. Some coal was excavated by using an open cast method. This entailed massive earth scrapers running along the ground and scooping the coal up. The slurry, or fine dust mixed with water was put back onto the land and then covered up with topsoil. These areas are now arable land used for grazing cattle. The colliery industry more or less shut down in England, some twenty years ago and when it did I went to work for a company that took advantage of the situation. Whilst the industry closed down, private companies in Wales opened up their own small mines. They needed equipment to operate and the company I worked for sent people into the old closed down mines to salvage the old chocks. (These are the large hydraulic machines that hold up the big tunnels that are produced when the coal is extracted.) The chocks would be refurbished and then sold to the new mines in Wales.

The collieries in England never really made it their policy to refill the vast holes left underground, this causes a lot of problems. If you think about a hole collapsing, it eventually finds it’s way to the surface, causing a hollow in the ground. The mines were usually flooded with water after use but the ground would still collapse. I lived in an area affected by subsidence. The houses were about seven miles away from the nearest mineshaft, but the tunnels stretched out so far that they ran underneath our house. This area had one of the worst records of ground subsidence and I remember actually being thrown out of bed at night when the subsidence struck. Some mornings we would wake up to see a six inch wide crack in the walls. The problem is still ongoing for the residents who are affected, but trying to get compensation from a company that no longer exists can be a bit of a problem.

The landscape is changing all the time. It wasn’t that long ago that Ireland was covered with trees, there’s only one percent of tree cover at present. Look at the urban sprawl of housing, is that any more attractive than looking at a quarry? Think about the effect landfills have in the area piled high with unnecessary plastic packaging leeching toxins onto the land. When and if Tournigan Gold Corporation comes to Inishowen for exploration we need to be well informed about the environmental impact if they proceed with the mining. Not only when they are working the mine but what happens after they have gone.
Twenty years isn’t a long time to be here as a working company in the grand scale of things, it’s about as long as the peat bogs are going to last if they are mined at their present rate!


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