Save Barrington Tops
RUBY MINING IN BARRINGTON TOPS - FACT SHEET
The initial development application for Cluff Resources’ small-scale ruby mine was controversially approved by Gloucester and Upper Hunter Councils in October 2004. The open cut mine and processing plant flanks the headwaters of the Manning River in the Barrington Tops. In November 2006 Cluff Resources submitted a new development application to seeking to expand their current open cut ruby mine from twelve to sixteen hectares. Both Councils received approximately 150 submissions opposing the proposed expansion, and both Councils subsequently rejected the application at their meetings in February 2007. Cluff Resources have decided that further expenditure on the current ruby mine is not warranted.
Exploratory mining has been going on throughout the Barrington Tops Plateau since 2000 without public consultation, including bulk sampling of some 20,000 tonnes of alluvial gravels from 9 locations on the banks of the Manning River and in areas of Sphagnum Swamp.(1) Cluff has plans to proceed to large scale mining ; “... a floating dredging operation is under consideration for Stage 2 – Large Scale Mining. To maximise the resource that could be mined this would involve mining across the river, possibly by first diverting the flow through temporary culverts.” (2)
Cluff has an exploration licence (EL 5336) which covers a large area of Barrington Tops State Forest (SF) and Barrington Tops State Conservation Area (SCA), and in May 2006 additional exploration licence (EL 6541) was approved, extending from the Gloucester Tops, along the Gloucester and Barrington Rivers down as far as Rocky Crossing at Faulkland, and including Copeland Tops SCA.
It appears that Cluff Resources bowed to pressure from the community, as in November 2006 they removed the areas containing Polblue, Horse Swamp and Butchers Swamp from their current exploration licence. Also in November 2007 Cluff relinquished all of the Barrington Tops SCA (adjacent to the National Park) from their exploration licence. However, another company may take out an Exploration Licence over these areas in the future. There are other endangered wetlands (particularly Boggy Swamp) contained within Cluff Resources' exploration licence on the Barrington Tops plateau, which continue to be at risk from mining activities.
The Ruby bearing aggregates are known to be located at the head of the drainage lines dissecting the Barrington Tops Plateau, consequently most of the Barrington Tops Plateau is now subject to exploration licences for rubies and sapphires. The areas targeted by mining companies who are searching for rubies are the sub-alpine wetlands, creek and river beds. Mining is permitted in State Conservation and State Forest Areas. This means that areas such as Polblue Swamp and other Endangered Wetlands (Butchers Swamp, Horse Swamp and Boggy Swamp), as well as the rivers that are located outside the protection of the National Park, may be subject to future exploration activities such as bulk sampling and full scale mining.
In their most recent EL 6541, Cluff advised that they plan to undertake large diameter drilling in the riverbeds of the Barrington and Gloucester Rivers and the creeks in and around Copeland Tops State Conservation Area.(3)
- The current small-scale ruby mine is on land owned by Cairnton Pty Ltd, which is controlled by the Packer group of companies & operated by Cluff Resources Pacific NL (NSW Gold is a wholly owned subsidiary).
- The current mine is conducted under a Private Mining Agreement (PMA), so environmental impacts are primarily a concern for Gloucester and Upper Hunter Councils, under Part 4 of Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.
- Consolidated Press Holding Ltd (CPH) has terminated the Ellerston coloured stone concentrate agreement as of 14 Mar 2007. (4)
- Other EL holders are: Icon EL 6619 (Gold), Kanga Rubies EL 5994; Robert Hewett EL 4848 and EPL 1103 (Rubies and other minerals). See TASMAP website on last page for location of ELs.
The current mining process involves digging up the alluvial riverbeds and subalpine wetlands as close as 10m to the Manning River, and trucking the gravel to a nearby processing plant (less than 50m from the Manning River) to sort any rubies from the rest of the gravel. In an attempt to dewater the mining areas drainage trenches are dug upslope and water is continually pumped from the open cut mining pits. A tailings dam is used to deposit the water with sand, silt and clay after it has been through the processing plant. Gypsum (plaster) is added to the tailings dam to aid with settlement. In periods of drought, water will have to be pumped from the river in order to maintain the water level in the dam.
- Creation of profit for Cluff Resources and Consolidated Press Holdings Ltd.
- 6-8 jobs
- Rubies will mainly be sent to Thailand to be cut and then sold in the United States as jewellery. Some are being sold in Australia as Ellerston Pink Sapphires by the following Sydney jewellers - Jan Logan, Rox, Giulians.
- The ruby resource is located in very important water catchment areas on the Barrington Tops Plateau.
- The close proximity of the ruby and sapphire mining activities to wetlands, swamps and rivers is a real threat to the future health of the region’s rivers and water supply.
- Destruction of the rare Wilderness Environment of the Barrington Tops.
- The sub-alpine wetlands have taken thousands of years to form (5), and cannot be regenerated.
- Threat to sustainable economic development in the region from tourism, which is worth 25-30 million dollars per year to the Gloucester community (far more than mining). There are 150 000 visitors to the Barrington Tops per year (NPWS figures) and $72.2 million per annum is the income generated across all of the Barrington Tops communities. (6)
PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT MINE
- Impact on water quality and quantity downstream. In 2006 there were eight incidents where high turbidity levels were recorded in the monitor located in the Manning River downstream from mining activities. The company claimed that all of these events were due to “Debris fouling the turbidity monitor". (7)
- Risk of dirty water entering the Manning River from the nearby tailings dam in times of extreme weather conditions.
- Destruction of an area of endangered subalpine wetland in Mining Area 4 of the current ruby mine. (8)
CONSERVATION SIGNIFICANCE OF BARRINGTON TOPS
NSW Scientific Committee have listed the montane peat lands and swamps of the State’s highland areas as an Endangered Ecological Community. This refers to all Subalpine Swamps in the Barrington Tops, including those mentioned above.
Sub-alpine habitats, including streams and wetlands of the Barrington Tops are extremely significant and unique for a number of reasons, including the significant number of endemic plant species, i.e. plants that exist nowhere else in the world. (9)
Subalpine swamps soak up and filter runoff from the surrounding woodlands like giant sponges. They slowly release high quality water into the rivers, sustaining a flow in dry periods.
The source of the Manning and Hunter Rivers and ten other significant rivers is in these very important subalpine wetlands/swamps in the Barrington Tops.
Many of the endangered swamps are located on public land in the Barrington Tops State Forest and Conservation Areas, which is also the location of the mineral exploration licences.
- Due to the fragile nature of the wetlands and surrounding flora, even exploratory mining activities such as road and track construction may lead to their destruction. (10)
ADDITIONAL WATER ISSUES
- “Most major river systems in south-eastern Australia originate in the high mountain country and the headwaters of these rivers consist of both alpine and sub-alpine bogs and streams. Hence, the Alpine Bog Community is an integral component of the alpine catchments, the importance of which is recognised by their being declared water supply catchment areas under State and Territory legislation”. (11)
The twelve rivers that descend from the Barrington Tops supply water to the Manning, Great Lakes, Port Stephens, Hunter and Central Coast Regions, a population of approx 1 million people.
A $30million pipeline linking the Hunter's water supply with the Central Coast was completed in December 2005. The water is pumped from the Williams River, one of the rivers beginning on the Barrington Tops. (12)
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Save Barrington Tops Group was formed to deal with the issues discussed above by :
1) Lobbying to change Barrington Tops State Conservation and State Forest Areas to National Park status to protect endangered wetlands from all mining activities.
2) Preventing expansion of Cluff Resources' current small-scale mine to large-scale mining.
3) Stopping all mining activities in wetlands/swamps and rivers.
4) Monitoring the consent conditions of Cluff Resources' small scale mine.
5) Monitoring all exploration licences in the Barrington Tops.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- JOIN OUR MAILING LIST for further information email email@example.com or contact Ann Smith on 02 6558 4353.
- Boycott all companies selling or using Ellerston Pink Sapphires.
- Write to The Hon Ian Macdonald MLC, Minister for Natural Resources & Primary Industries & Mineral Resources firstname.lastname@example.org and Ms Verity Firth, Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water email@example.com. Ask them to upgrade the Barrington Tops SCA and SF areas to National Park, to protect this water catchment area from mining.
For information and maps on the current titles access TASMAP on the DPI Web site at http://www.minerals.nsw.gov.au/tasmap/ or contact Bob Harrison, AMTS Pty Limited Mining Agents & Exploration Consultants, 48 Sorrento Road, Empire Bay NSW 2257 Tel: (02) 4363 1686 Fax: (02) 4363 1687
- Nature Conservation Council of NSW www.nccnsw.org.au
- National Parks Association of NSW www.npansw.org.au
- Environmental Defender’s Office www.edo.org.au
(1) Gloucester Rubies Project Small Scale Mining Environmental Impact Statement Volume 1 2000-03 Exploration Overview Fig. 2.1
(2) Cluff Resources Gloucester Rubies Project EIS Volume 1 Pg 29
(3) Email from Director of Cluff Resources Peter Kennewell to Gloucester Environment Group 7 March, 2006
(4) Australian Stock Exchange Statement 14th March 2007
(5) Nanson, R. A. (2005) Stream channel adjustment in upland swamps, Barrington Tops, NSW Australia PhD thesis. School of Physical Environmental & Mathematical Sciences University of NSW
(6) Gloucester Advocate 2 August, 2006
(7) Surface & Groundwater Monitoring Report Gloucester Rubies Project, Barrington Tops, 31 July 2006
(8) Cluff Resources EIS Supplementary Information Gloucester Rubies Project June 2004 page 3.2
(9) Conservation Significance of Barrington Tops compiled by Anne Heinrich, author of “ A Field Guide to Sub-alpine Flora of Barrington Tops New South Wales”
(10) NSW Scientific Committee Final Determination for Montane Peatlands and Swamps as an Endangered Ecological Community (Determination Advice 04/24), 17 December, 2004
(11) Draft nomination of the Alpine Bog Community submitted to Environment Australia, June 1999. Author Obscured
(12) Newcastle Herald Saturday July 8, 2006