Britain is set for a Klondike-style gold rush after prospectors working an abandoned tin mine hit a rich seam of the precious metal – in Cornwall.
Experts have discovered ”commercial levels” of gold at the South Crofty mine near Camborne – making it England’s only goldmine.
The mine – which was been closed for a decade – was the heart of the county’s tin mining industry for centuries but fell into decline until plumetting prices saw it eventually shut down.
But in 2006 – after tin price began to soar globally – official announced a plan to enter the site and test whether it could be re-mined.
Yesterday its owners announced they had struck gold during excavations and staked a claim on the site and plan to mine it commercially.
Officials say that while the traces are ”microscopic”, they found levels of 1.6 grammes per tonne – making it more gold-rich than some of California’s most famous mining sites.
Western United Mines, which now employs about 60 workers at the site, said the gold find is ”very significant” and potentially profitable.
Chief operating officer John Webster said: ”We have found traces of gold while we carried out exploratory drilling and are now identifying gold targets.
”We have only just started looking for gold but we have already found it at a commercial level grade. It is very encouraging.
”What we now know is that gold is definitely on the menu here, it’s just no one has chosen to order it until now.
”We can’t say we are a gold exploration company at the moment, but gold exists in Cornwall for sure.”
South Crofty was closed by its Canadian owners in in 1998 after being hit hard by the tin crisis of 1985 – which saw global prices more than halved overnight.
But it was later re-opened by Western United Mines and in 2006 it was given planning permission to search for tin.
The firm announced it would restart tin extraction at the mine to ”breath life” back into Cornwall’s 3,000-year tradition tin-mining.
Workers began exploratory drilling in the area for traces of tin, copper, zinc and other trace metals – but say they were not looking for gold.
But they were stunned when they carried out tests on the extracted material and found hidden gold particles – which they say can be mined and sold.
South Crofty has 300 miles of tunnels underground – estimated to be enough to keep miners busy for 80 years.
John Webster said that by adopting modern mining practices, production costs of mining the gold could be cut significantly.
He added: ”Since we started mining again here it has become obvious that there is much more here than just tin. We are now looking at way to make mining gold a commercial reality.”
Cornwall once boasted 2,000 tin mines and was a world leader until overseas competitors began to produce ores far more cheaply.
For years South Crofty mine was the sole survivor of Cornwall’s mining heritage and when it finally shut the area suffered a massive economic blow.
The mine has has seen production for over 400 years and it extends almost two-and-a-half miles across and 3,000 feet down.
Gold prices hit record highs this week when investors flocked to the precious metal as a safe-haven investment amid Greece’s financial crisis.
Sterling-priced bullion hit a high of £783.33 an ounce and gold also set records in euros, Swiss francs and US dollars.