Shetland Charitable Trust could be set to invest in the gold mining industry, if efforts to identify a rich enough vein of the mineral come to fruition.
Part of the north side of Ronas Hill, including around Loch of the Hadd and Vig Vishins, is said to contain valuable deposits, and one of the country’s leading consultant geologists has already been carrying out test bores in the area.
The news has also evoked memories of 19th century Shetland philanthropist Laurence Ratter, known as “Lowrie ida Roga”, who looked for the metal at Ronas Hill before going on to try to make his fortune in Australia.
It has emerged that US coastguards based at Collafirth Hill half a century ago discovered substantial traces of gold when panning during their time off in nearby Queina Waters.
Charitable trustees are generally remaining tight-lipped about the opportunity, although one trustee, who declined to be named, said he was really excited about the prospect.
“This is fantastic news and if the consultant’s report proves positive it is something which Shetland cannot afford to ignore,” the trustee said.
“It is fairly obvious from speaking to the experts that the bedrock in this part of Ronas Hill has massive concentrations.
“This could bring in millions, absolute millions, and would mean we could turn our efforts away from the controversial Viking Energy project, which seems to be going nowhere anyway.
“The profits which Viking could have brought in would be sweetie money compared to this. This is absolutely massive and we just can’t turn it down.”
Efforts to elicit an official response from the charitable trust had proved fruitless by the time we went to press, however. The Shetland Times was redirected to the trust’s public relations company while a phone call to the chairman produced the recorded message: “You’ve reached Bobby Hunter. I dunna ken onything aboot it.”
This is not the first time that Shetland’s potential gold reserves has come under the microscope, of course.
Back in 1996 members of the SIC development committee had the chance to consider an area at Muness in Unst, but chose not to take the matter further.
At that time councillors were warned that failure to invest would only lead to interest from private business, but so far that has not happened.
Also identified by the survey at that time were high levels around Bigton, Hoswick, Scalloway, South Nesting and an area at Fladdabister.
The leading geologist who has been investigating the area, Professor Federico Illoa, said he had spent the past week at the back of Ronas Hill. He genuinely believed there were massive gold deposits although deeper boring would have to be carried out to make sure.
Prof Illoa, who has worked extensively in South Africa during a long and varied career, said he had already identified large outcrops of iron pyrites, sometimes known as “fool’s gold”, and his experience told him that where that occurred, the “real stuff is never terribly far away”.
Prof Illoa said: “I was delighted to be contracted to carry out this work, which I am told will be vitally important for the future of your lovely isles.
“We were told to beware of the weather at this time of year, but apart from a little rain the conditions around Grit Wells, where we have initially been boring, have been excellent.
“My technical assistant Willy Costa and I have already been very busy, and what we have found is positive indeed. I am fairly sure that you good people are sitting on great reserves here. It is just a question of identifying the exact depth of the reserves and deciding how best to extract them.
“Even some minor panning in the Burn of the Twa-roes has produced promising results.
“We expect to be here for another two weeks or so, and by then we will have a definite idea of what you can expect.”
Asked if he thought the idea of the charitable trust investing in gold mining would be more widely acceptable than wind generation, Prof Illoa was at first reluctant to comment.
However, he said: “Whichever way you go there are bound to be repercussions for the environment. There will of course be heavy machinery necessary in an area which I believe is noted for its natural beauty. Some rare wildlife could well be in jeopardy.
“But if you really want to secure Shetland’s financial future for generations to come, I believe that
a large quarry and a few dead birds would be a small price to pay.”
Prof Illoa added: “If you permit me I would like to express my thanks for the amazing hospitality the people of your wonderful islands have extended to myself and Willy.
“In particular I would like to thank my lovely landlady who has provided us with a plentiful supply of what I believe are called ‘bannocks’. Willy and I are very grateful indeed.”