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Gold Panning

gold panning

So let's just say you think you've struck gold.. literally! Gold panning is the quickest way to shift through soft grounds or water beds to find out what sent your metal detector into over drive!

So what is Gold Panning?!

Gold Panning is a traditional form of placer mining that involves using a pan to extract gold from a deposit. It is popular to this day with Geologists, Detectorists and other enthusiasts because of it's relative simplicity and low cost.

The first recorded instances of placer mining are from ancient Roman times, where gold and other precious metals were extracted from streams and mountainsides using sluices and panning. 

The biggest problem with gold panning is that the productivity rate is comparatively smaller compared to other methods such as the rocker box  or large extractors.

Gold Panning

Gold Panning UK Law

At present in the UK, gold panning is mostly legal, albeit with some sensible restrictions. 

You obviously must ask permission from landowners before panning on their estate and removing gold can only be done with their agreement. The landowner may also want a share of any profits made, which is their right.

It is also important to be considerate to the environment when considering gold panning. Many of Britain’s rivers are home to unique ecosystems and are areas of scientific or conservation interests. Prospectors should always make every effort to check if the river has any special environmental concessions. Even where there are no specific environmental cautions, care should be taken not to disturb wildlife or damage the nearby area.

Gold panning also sits in a moral grey area with regards to the legal ownership of gold removed. The Crown Estate, which manages a variety of property and land issues for the Royal Family, do not permit or licence gold panning.

In Ireland “recreational panning” -which refers to the use of hand-held, non-motorised equipment- is allowed, but the gold is still owned by the state. Selling the gold gathered is considered ‘working’ of minerals and requires permission by the Irish Government.

Gold Panning

The Gold Panning Process

The principal behind gold panning is actually incredibly simple. Gold is heavy. Just about every other material you could scoop up is lighter. So, if you load a pie-pan shaped container with gold-bearing gravel and sand from your chosen location, then properly agitate it in water, it should cause the gold to sink to the bottom, while washing away the lighter stuff that rises to the top. Eventually, all that will be left in your pan is the heaviest minerals, hopefully including some gold!

Obviously the amount of material that can be sifted through at any one time is incredibly limited compared to larger scale methods and operations, that's why gold panning is only really popular in areas with limited finances and infrastructure, or as a recreational hobby.

Often gold panning will only turn up only minor gold dust that is usually collected as a souvenir in small clear tubes by hobbyists. Nuggets and considerable amounts of dust are occasionally found, but panning mining is not generally that lucrative these days.


Gold pans of various designs have been developed over the years, the common features being a means for trapping the heavy materials during agitation, or for easily removing them at the end of the process.

Pans are measured by their diameter in inches or centimetres, and are manufactured in both metal and high impact plastic.

Plastic gold pans resist rust, acid and corrosion, and most are designed with moulded riffles along one side of the pan. Of the plastic gold pans, green and red ones are usually preferred among prospectors, as both the gold and the black sand stands out in the bottom of the pan.

If you'd like to give gold panning a go yourself, may we suggest you start out by trying one of the many available low cost beginner kits like this one.

Gold Panning

Where to go Gold Panning

Gold can be found in all four countries of the UK.

Scotland Dumfries and Galloway

England – In the Lake District, the Pennines, the Forest of Dean and Cornwall.

Wales – The Welsh Gold Rush of the 1860s is long gone, but the Dolgellau Gold Belt in Snowdonia still yields gold to this day. The ancient Dolaucothi Gold Mines in Camarthenshire also offer visitors a chance to try panning with supervision.

Republic of Ireland – With a name like ‘Gold Mines River’ its unsurprising that this area in County Wicklow is a popular location for Irish gold hunters.

The locations above are known sites that still regularly produce gold, but the UK has miles of untapped countryside that has never even been prospected. Just because gold hasn’t been found there yet should not be taken to mean it doesn’t exist there!

Good luck and happy panning! :-)


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