Please note: Images in this article were taken before current COVID-19 safety measures were in place.
A new pilot program allowing for improved negotiation between landowners and mineral explorers about accessing privately owned land for exploration activities has been welcomed in regional Victoria.
Use of the tool – a simple online template to document an agreement – is voluntary, but early indications are that the tool has been received positively by both landowners and mineral exploration companies.
Minerals exploration is not always embraced. Negative perceptions exist in some regions as farmers view it as a threat to their livelihood, and communities can see it as conflicting with local values. But minerals exploration and farming can coexist to benefit property owners, business and regional communities.
The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) has welcomed the trial. Dedicated to representing the interests of farmers, VFF President David Jochinke believes the launch marks a new and consultative approach to land access.
"Farming and mining are both vital for the Victorian economy and rural employment" he says. "However, it’s critical that support is available to help landholders work with explorers, and that explorers better understand how to minimise impacts on farms."
The consent tool will help rural landholders negotiate with mineral explorers searching for minerals such as gold, copper and other valuable metals on private land. These metals are key components for technology and renewable energy products, and are in high demand. More gold is being found year on year and more companies are searching to see where mineral deposits may exist for potential development.
The template will help parties agree on things like access to private property, setting farm biosecurity protocols and managing impacts on crops, including potential compensation.
The trial of the land access tool coincides with a new wave of planned minerals exploration in western Victoria across an area known in geological terms as the Stavely Arc.
Following last year’s Stavely Ground Release (opening the Stavely Arc region for tenders from minerals explorers), the first of potentially six new Mineral Exploration Licences has been awarded. The planned exploration expenditure across all six licence areas is expected to be over $20 million, bringing a boost to regional towns through an influx of people and increased patronage at local businesses.
Generally, early-stage exploration activities, such as mapping, sampling and rock testing, are the first steps in establishing if minerals are present. If further development is considered to be economically viable, it takes many years to progress towards mining, including meeting strict regulatory controls.
Susie Sewell, Cathcart landowner
Susie Sewell runs a 600-acre sheep farm in Cathcart near Ararat. Her family was approached by Stavely Minerals, who were interested in mineral exploration in the area.
Initially, Susie was apprehensive about the prospect of minerals exploration on her farm. However, now that activities have started, she says the exploration has benefited the property and resulted in her eight-year-old son contemplating a future in geology.
According to Susie, negotiations about accessing her land began with a conversation about the type of activities Stavely Minerals would be conducting, the minerals they would be looking for and how any impacts on her farm could be minimised.
She says the minerals explorer accommodated her needs and even made some improvements: to access a section of her property – the explorer cleared a section of overhanging trees, which gave better access for her vehicles and machinery.
While drilling the explorer also found water and instead of covering the hole when work was completed they capped it so it could be accessed (pending the appropriate approvals) as a water source for livestock.
Susie says the exploration activity had very little, if any, impact on her farm. She says that her family probably disrupted the explorers more by regularly visiting the site to see what they were up to.
Watch the video to see more of Susie’s story.
Details of exploration in western Victoria and the land access consent tool are available on the Earth Resources website.