Objective of the flight: 

To investigate the potential sites of mining; to see the drainage patterns of the mining areas; to document the extent of exploration drilling; to investigate potential conflicts between agriculture and mining; to identify such sites which show signs of shallow groundwater upwelling; to obtain visuals for our education work with local communities.

Pilot:  Richard Spear

Aircraft: Cessna 210

Beneficiary:   Dr Stefan Cramer, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

Report from the beneficiary, Stefan Cramer:

“This Bateleurs flight helped to investigate historical sites of uranium mining currently under application for massive expansion by the Australian mining company PENINSULA ENERGY and get a regional perspective placing these isolated mine sites in the larger contact of the Karoo hydrology.

These findings and associated images are invaluable for a campaign to stop uranium mining in the Karoo before it has even started. The timing was strategic. Currently the Department of Mineral Resources is assessing the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Environmental Management Plan (EMP) of the mining applicants. On the basis of this assessment, the DMR either grants or rejects a 30 year mining license over some 500.000 hectares of Central Karoo lands in the Western Cape. Similar processes are expected to take place on another 250.000 hectares in the Northern and Eastern Cape soon. Simultaneously the Department of Environmental Affairs is conducting the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on Shale Gas in the Karoo, over exactly the same areas.

What our images show very convincingly is the connectedness of the two issues, the fragile groundwater equilibrium of the Karoo, the dense drainage pattern that connect sites far away from each other and general fragility of the Karoo environment, where rehabilitation is difficult if not impossible.”

Report from the pilot, RiC Spear:

“We departed Port Elizabeth to Graaff Reinet to collect Stefan and Erica who were conducting the survey. The morning of the flight was near perfect with great visibility and little to no wind (which is a rarity for Port Elizabeth). We departed Graaff Reinet and routed via Aberdeen along the mountain ride towards Beaufort West. This area is full of interesting topography and was great hearing Stefan explain how they came about and even how these hills and mountains affect ground water through channeling the water underground and even damming in areas thus explaining why some areas in that region were greener and others were utterly baron especially since there were not rivers near to account for it.

We then picked up our 1st waypoint to start the survey. It’s on flights like these that you are reminded how desolate barren and flat the Karoo is. If it were not for modern GPS it would be nearly impossible to navigate these waypoints. With the early morning light, the area’s true beauty popped with ground sand colors showing at times dark reds looking almost like the Kalahari at times. On the way to the next waypoint we saw what could only be described as fields of mole hills. We asked Stefan about this and he explained these mounds we see were core drilling sites where they drilled to assess the uranium deposits in the area. I would guess there were in excess of 100 000 holes drilled in that area. This indicated the money being thrown at this proposed mining project. We saw areas where cores were drilled and the material left on the surface, which seems to be radioactive as well.

We overflew the 1st old mine and it was easy to see the old ore that was deposited around the mind which is high grade and still radioactive. The mine site was abandoned years ago with traces of the old building foundations. We then flew to the most westerly boundary of the proposed mining area. This was the longest straight leg on the survey. Stefan pointed out that with this whole area they were planning to do a 70km open pit mine that would mean this beautiful untouched area would have a major scar forever thereafter.

We then completed the remaining waypoints and opted to head back to Graaff Reinet rather than land for a leg stretch (and nappy change of our 15 month old daughter, the youngest Bateleur) as the wind was starting to pick up. During the flight back we picked up a 30kt tail wind which cut down the flight time substantially. But this came at a price as, as soon as the wind hit the mountains off the flat Karoo plains substantial turbulence was encountered. Landing in Graaff Reinet was interesting with a 90 degree cross wind veering 30-40 degrees and 10kt gusting over 20kt (as reported at the weather station at the airfield).”