Greenburn and Tilberthwaite Copper Mines

A successful partnership approach has been adopted for a feasibility study around 4 copper mines in two valleys across South Cumbria.

The intention was to assess a suite of interventions which would deliver environmental benefit to the nearby watercourses whilst not negatively affecting the heritage value of the sites. South Cumbria Rivers Trust led the Environment Agency funded project in partnership with the National Trust and Lake District National Park Authority.


Historic copper mines at Greenburn and Tilberthwaite are a source of copper fines into nearby watercourses. Concentrations of copper have been recorded downstream which are above the level thought to be toxic to aquatic organisms. Furthermore, Greenburn mine is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and Penny Rigg within the Tilberthwaite complex, although not designated, is of high heritage value. Therefore, any options to reduce copper inputs to the watercourses must also be sensitive to the high heritage value associated with these areas.

The Study:

A feasibility study was undertaken, with the group taking an open minded approach. This involved a full survey by consultants, Dynamic Rivers, to identify options which would benefit the local environment. Options were developed from a purely environmental and ecological perspective at this stage. However, following this a heritage consultant was appointed to review the options and assess which may be feasible from a heritage perspective. The steering group were keen to avoid ruling out options if with further modification or interpretation they could become acceptable. Therefore, a traffic light system was developed to highlight those which were feasible, which could be feasible with modification and which would not be acceptable for the heritage of the mines.

The steering group adopted an open minded process from the start. By taking each part a step at a time and not ruling out options or alternatives until they have been fully assessed, the group has reached a successful conclusion. The feasibility has identified three main options around each of the mine sites which will reduce copper inputs into the watercourses and also protect the heritage value of the sites. In some cases the reduction in water running through the sites will also help to conserve the sites further by reducing the risk of erosion and flood damage.

The group is currently seeking funding to deliver the recommended interventions.

Penny Rigg Copper Mine View from Greenburn Copper Mine