Strength of feeling in Covas do Barroso, and beyond, against lithium mining in an area of outstanding natural beauty and heritage is remarkable

Lithium wars step up in Covas do Barroso

“Get Savannah out of our mountains” chant locals backed by activists

Strength of feeling against plans for an open-pit lithium mine in Covas do Barroso shows no signs of abating following the rapid departure of mining company CEO David Archer.

Today a new protest saw locals and activists block the entry to the offices of British mining company Savannah Resources, chanting ‘Get Savannah out of our mountains’.

Focus has honed in on the ‘excessive use of water’ by the mining sector – and the fact that this will almost certainly lead to shortages for the community (particularly within the context of year-on-year increasing drought).

Protestors brought bags of earth with them today, placing them at the door of Savannah’s offices, which happen to be right in front of Boticas Town Hall.

A large banner reading “Mining burial, they will not pass” was unfurled. This is what locals have long vowed: the mining company will never be given willing access – even if  it ‘wins’ permission to dig up this verdant stretch of national territory.

Since David Archer’s unexpected departure, Savannah’s new CEO has been conspicuous in his absence: Dale Ferguson has not even acknowledged one of the emails sent to him by Portugal Resident, for example. He has not been quoted, or even cited, by national media.

And today, Savannah’s offices were empty

Protestors nonetheless left “puppets leaning against the wall, which they wanted to represent company officers and members of the government, namely the prime minister”, writes Lusa.

“This was a way of demonstrating to the company that they are not welcome here”, explained Nélson Gomes, president of the association Unidos em Defesa de Covas do Barroso, which has been active in promoting a long weekend camp against mining. 

“We will be here to prevent the company from opening any type of mine”, he said, stressing that Covas do Barroso has been classified as World Agricultural Heritage and no local wants “this type of development” for the territory.

“It is not with mines that we are going to solve the problem of the Interior. This is a good year – because we are in an extreme drought – to alert to the lack of water which mining will only worsen”, he told reporters.

“This year, the village is already short of water. If we already don’t have enough water for the animals and the people who live there, how will we have water to sustain a mine that consumes more water than the municipality itself during the whole year?” he quizzed.

Mayor of Boticas, Fernando Queiroga, confirmed water supply difficulties in Covas do Barroso, saying for the first time in this village, it has been necessary to refill people’s tanks.

The water issue has always been one of the arguments presented by the municipality against this mine. A year without rain has only added “more reason” to the argument, he said.

“If the mine had been in operation this year, we would have had complete disaster. This year Covas do Barroso area is low on water. The immense amount of water needed for the company (to mine) is frightening. There are no rivers, no springs, no boreholes that could sustain it,” he stressed.

Meantime, the chanting continued: “The people of Barroso do not want mines“; “Barroso united will never be defeated“; “The land cannot be sold, it is loved and defended” and “Get off the pavement and come into our midst”.

“Music also became a weapon of protest”, says Lusa. “Written by beekeeper Carlos Gonçalves, the song “Exploração” has become a kind of anthem heading protests against the mine.

“Barroso, Barroso, Barroso, the people have to listen to each other, they want to ruin the Barroso mountains, we won’t allow it” are the words, which the author says encapsulate people’s feelings.

At 86, Covas do Barroso resident António Gonçalves made a point of joining the protest. He told reporters that if the mine opens “the village will be worth nothing. We would have no livestock, no vegetables, the water would be contaminated, the dust would take over everything. I’m worried. I can see that we’ll have to pull out of here”.

Eleanor Winkler came from Caldas da Rainha to join the camp and defend the “land and people” from “giant corporations” who, she believes, “want to destroy and pollute in a terrible way“.

The Barroso mine is located in an area within the parishes of Dornelas and Covas do Barroso and is planned to be an open-pit exploration for lithium and other minerals. The planned concession area is 593 hectares – but the going has not been easy: Back in July, Savannah was notified by Portuguese Environment Agency APA that it had to reformulate its project before it could get the final green-light (or DIA, declaration of environmental impact).

The timing coincided with the departure of the former CEO, and the uptick of the ‘anti’ campaign which has managed to take its case to Europe and the wider media.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com