Reporter 445, 24 January 2000

Hunting for gold in them there leadhills

University students are being given the chance to find their fortune by learning the old prospector’s trick of panning for gold.

Panning out: students taught gold panning in the Scottish hills

Though none of the would-be 49ers taking the accredited module has managed to retire yet, they have found enough bullion to help make a ceremonial gold mace produced to mark the opening of the Scottish parliament. Continuing education lecturer and metallurgist Rob Chapman leads expeditions to the inappropriately named Leadhills region of Scotland, 45 miles south of Glasgow.

"All the students get to keep what they find,"he said. The current record for a week’s prospecting is about three grammes, enough to make a ring but an equivalent annual salary of just £800. The skills the students learn, however, could prove more lucrative elsewhere.

"In some regions of New Zealand prospectors can find over 30 grammes of gold a day," said Dr Chapman (about £150 worth).

As well as panning, students learn how the geology and local conditions influence where gold is likely to be found. "It is a bit like fishing, in that you need to read the river and know where to look," he said. Useful tips include looking where there is a change in the water flow, on the inside of bends for example, said Dr Chapman.

He has word of caution, however, for those heading for the River Aire with a frying pan. "Leeds is useless for gold," he said. "The geology is completely wrong."

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