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Defra funds scheme to treat metal-rich water from abandoned mine

Defra has announced an innovative treatment scheme that uses the natural environment to clean metal-rich water from an abandoned mine. The Force Crag mine water treatment scheme, set in the Cumbrian hills near Keswick, will clean up a six mile stretch of river, preventing up to a tonne of metals, including zinc, cadmium and lead, from entering Bassenthwaite Lake each year.

Lake BassenthwaiteLake Bassenthwaite

Funded by Defra, the scheme is part of the government’s £8.5M investment in low-cost solutions to tackle water pollution caused by abandoned metal mines that pollute more than 1,000 miles of rivers in England. It is expected that the scheme will contribute up to £4.9M in environmental benefits to the area's water and wildlife while boosting tourism and the local economy.

The concept has been developed by Dr Adam Jarvis and his team at Newcastle University and delivered by the Coal Authority in partnership with the Environment Agency (EA), the National Trust, the Lake District National Park Authority and others.

Stephen Dingle, chair of the Coal Authority, said: "Our experts prevent and treat water pollution from Britain’s abandoned coal and metal mines, managing over 70 mine water treatment schemes to protect and improve over 350km of rivers. We also prevent important sources of drinking water from being polluted.

"Working with our partners we’ve now built and are managing our first ever passive metal mine water treatment scheme to address the pollution which comes from Force Crag Mine in the Lake District National Park.

"The scheme has been carefully designed to be consistent with the beautiful surroundings and address this major source of metal pollution, which affects Bassenthwaite Lake and other local watercourses. We are delighted with its excellent performance in removing in excess of 95% of the metals from the mine water."

Environmental engineer Dr Adam Jarvis said: "Newcastle University’s design of the water treatment process at Force Crag followed more than ten years’ research and development, starting in the laboratory and culminating in this unique large-scale treatment system. Working in partnership, it’s a great example of undertaking research to resolve a real world problem – pollution from abandoned mines."

The EA's Keith Ashcroft said: "This system is the first of its kind in Europe and the results of monitoring here will help to design even more effective, sustainable, mine water treatment systems for the 1,700 km of rivers polluted by abandoned metal mines elsewhere in England. Innovations such as this over the next five years will help the Environment Agency to work in partnership to improve another 6,000kms of rivers and 50 bathing waters."

The Force Crag Mine was worked for zinc, lead and barytes from 1835 until 1991 and was the last working mine in the Lake District. Now abandoned, it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and a scheduled monument.

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