Well-armed: Fossicker Francine Gilbert. Photo: Simon Schluter
Weekend gold and gem hunters will be allowed to operate in more national parks in Victoria after the state government gave the green light for eight areas to be opened up.
Five parts of the Alpine National Park, one area of the Lake Eildon National Park and two sections of the Lerderderg State Park will now be opened to recreational gold hunters who are often known as prospectors or fossickers.
The use of metal detectors and hand tools will be allowed, but the government has ruled out the use of more elaborate motorised devices sometimes used by prospectors.
A review of the environmental and cultural impact of the decision will occur after one year.
Environmentalists have criticised the push to open up national parks for prospecting, saying there have been instances where waterways have been damaged by being dammed and diverted to find minerals.
Phil Ingamells from the Victorian National Parks Association said national parks were there for nature, not for digging up.
''The government acknowledges that prospecting damages natural areas, so it is disappointing that the activity will be allowed in new areas in national parks,'' he said.
Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria president, Rita Bentley, said she was disappointed with the access that had been granted. She said many of the sites were up four-wheel-drive tracks, hard to access especially by older members, and were not known gold areas.
''While we appreciate the extra access, the government had the chance to allow the responsible use of national and state parks and they haven't done that,'' she said.
Francine Gilbert, who regularly searches with a metal detector in gold regions, such as Bendigo and Ballarat, said the usual hunting grounds had been well covered and there was not much to find. She hoped to visit the newly opened areas.
The decision to open up new areas follows a Victorian Environmental Assessment Council investigation - commissioned by the government - of nine national and state parks to determine which would be most appropriate to allow prospectors access to.
While the council recommended the new areas adopted by the government on Tuesday, it warned in its final report there was clear evidence the practice could damage the natural values of national parks, especially rivers and creeks. It also said prospecting did not sit well with the purposes of national and states parks.