Work starts on £130m Devon tungsten mine

By Neil Gallacher
BBC South West Business Correspondent

media captionThe BBC's Simon Clemison reports from the site, and finds out how tungsten is mined

Work has started to excavate Britain's first new metal mine for more than 40 years.

The Hemerdon tungsten mine on the edge of Dartmoor will cost about £130m to dig and is expected to start producing the metal in 2015.

The mine, near Plympton, will exploit the world's fourth-largest deposit of tungsten.

Australian owners Wolf Minerals hope to produce about 3,000 tonnes of tungsten and tin per year.

Charlotte Wilkins, from the company, said it would employ local people.

She said: "The people here are largely local; we have a lot of people from Plymouth.

"Some of the skills involved in a project like this, the base isn't in this country. But the vast majority, especially the trades, are here."

Russell Clark, managing director of the company, said: "Tungsten is a hard and heavy metal. It has a very high melting point.

"It sells at about $37,000 a tonne which compares to tin at about $23,000 so it's a high value metal.

"The time is right. The price is good. The technology has come along. We're in a position where we can make a decent run of this job."

Dr Robin Shail, from Camborne School of Mines, said at least 80% of world tungsten production took place in China, allowing it to dictate supply to the rest of the world.

He said: "This is a really significant moment for south-west England. We are seeing the development of a significant global producer.

"Hemerdon mine will probably be the third or fourth-biggest tungsten mine in the world.

"More importantly it will probably be responsible for three or four per cent of global tungsten production and tungsten is a very important metal."

Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, said there had been very little protest over the mine.

"This part of Dartmoor has been mined for well over 100 years and the local community is aware of that - in fact, the local community is here because of that," he said.

"While there have been some concerns about the environment, the overwhelming reaction from the local community was that we want the investment; we want the jobs."

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