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Local residents campaign against lithium exploration along Wicklow-Carlow border

The world’s largest lithium producer has been investigating the area since 2013.

A community organisation says lithium excavation would inflict permanent ecological damage.
A community organisation says lithium excavation would inflict permanent ecological damage.
Image: Protect Moylisha Hill

LOCAL RESIDENTS ARE campaigning against plans for lithium exploration along the border between Wicklow and Carlow.

Blackstairs Lithium Company has applied to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to renew its prospecting licence to explore for mineral deposits in over 150 townlands over a 50km area between Carlow and Wicklow – some of which encompasses part of the Wicklow Way nature trail.

The state-owned forestry company Coillte owns several commercial forests in the area.

Blackstairs Lithium Company has been carrying out exploratory drilling in the area since 2013. It is a subsidiary of Chinese company Ganfeng Lithium (which is the world’s largest lithium producer) and Canada-based firm International Lithium.

A community organisation is raising concerns that lithium excavation would inflict permanent ecological damage in the Blackstairs and Wicklow Mountains. 

Residents fear it would harm the local water supply, impact biodiversity, create significant traffic problems in the rural area and scar the landscape.

“If these explorations were to proceed, the scar could stretch from Borris in the Blackstairs Mountains to Aughrim in the Wicklow Mountains for over 50 kilometres,” the Protect Moylisha Hill community group says.

pro-moy Local residents have held demonstrations against prospecting in the area. Source: Protect Moylisha Hill

Lithium has several industrial applications, including rechargeable batteries, glass and ceramics, medicine and steel and rubber production.

A prospecting licence entitles the holder to explore for mineral deposits but does not authorise mining any minerals. The Department of the Environment says the activities permissible under a licence are, in general, non-invasive and of minimal environmental impact.

However, the local residents say the company has been investigating the area for many years now and its licence renewal indicates an interest in stepping-up its activities in the area.

“They’ve been prospecting for years now. They’ve found stuff, we know they have found lithium up there,” one of the local campaigners, Belinda Bielenberg, explains.

They’re spending a lot of money on geologists at the moment. The more money they spend on prospecting, the more hungry they’re going to be to get going and selling the actual lithium.

International Lithium says it has discovered 19 significant lithium pegmatite occurrences during its excavations on the site to date. Pegmatite is granite-like rock that houses elements such as lithium.

The Protect Moylisha Hill group says that the application is creating a deep sense of unease among locals as the lithium excavation could inflict lasting ecological damage to biodiversity, rivers and farmland.

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They say the proposed drilling sites include much of the Wicklow Way and the project is putting at risk a rich habitat for naturally occurring flora and fauna. 

They also say the company has made no effort to openly engage with the local community. It also has concerns about the prospecting causing damage to the Moylisha wedge tomb, a megalithic burial site.

wedge The Moylisha wedge tomb.

“The whole part of the Wicklow Way walk, it goes over two hills down here. Every angle you’ll see this big scar in the landscape,” says Bielenberg.

“All of our German visitors, French visitors who come over to go walking in beautiful Ireland are going to see this ugly scar.”

The community group says it intends to raise its concerns with environment minister Eamon Ryan as well as other politicians shortly.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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