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Monchique mining plans on the cards

by EMMA BERTENSHAW [email protected]

Two mining operators have expressed a long standing interest in exploiting new areas of feldspar deposits in the mountains of Monchique.

Over the past year, there has been a great deal of opposition to allowing the companies to start work, with a petition and public condemnation from local authorities such as Rui André, the mayor of Monchique, and politicians like Mendes Bota, deputy leader of the PSD (Social Democratic Party).

The area in question covers roughly 1,612 square metres of the landscape, which is renowned for its natural beauty and attracts both residents and tourists.

It is also home to a number of endangered and rare species of flora and fauna including the Iberian Lynx, wildcats, the Bonelli eagle and proportedly the largest magnolia in Europe among many others that thrive in the diverse habitat.

The conservation group A Rocha (www.arocha.org) notes that the main threat to the habitat in the Monchique area has been introduction of cash crop plantations such as Eucalyptus trees that have replaced the indigenous chestnut and cork and have contributed to an increase in forest fires.

In relative terms, they have caused the most damage to the ecology.

The mountains are of volcanic origins and feature a rare type of Syenite (similar to granite) which has many industrial uses apart from being used for many public buildings in the Algarve.

Economic pressure

A geologist with experience of feldspar extraction explained that it is a relatively small-scale operation that occurs in similar places around Europe, such as Italy, and can be very lucrative.

There is already a long established quarry at Lugar da Nave run by Sienave (www.sienave.com) who say they are able to recycle almost 100% of their waste and have a commitment to sustainability.

Residents and local councils are well aware that under current economic pressure the government could allow explorations to go ahead and just last year signed approvals for similar projects for exploration studies into precious metal ores to go ahead with mining giants such as Colt Resources.

Colt has recently announced that plans for exploration of minerals in Portugal are in their final stages and have stepped up investment into their operations.

The company is the largest lease holder of mineral concessions in this country and bought up Q.S.P.A, a sole proprietorship company in the Douro valley last August which includes a vineyard and a monastery.

They are mining for gold and Tungsten among other precious metals.

The metal ore studies will take place all over the country including Monchique, Portimão and Aljezur.

Recent national news that a ceramics manufacturer in Valadares is facing financial difficulties has no doubt also affected such decision-making as feldspars mined in Portugal are used largely in ceramics production.

Mendes Bota from the PSD recently spoke out against the mining in parliament, calling it a `Crime to the motherland´ and a major show of negligence towards the cultural and environmental heritage of the Monchique hills.

The Minister for Economy and Employment, Álvaro Santos Pereira, says that these investments are important for the economy and that the mining industry is “one of the engines of economic reform” which can have a big impact on exports.

Mayor Rui André has been quoted as saying that in such circumstances the government can veto choices made by local councils, meaning that if the government decides it is necessary it would not be possible to stop them.

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