Will Making Kate Middleton’s Wedding Ring Kill Baby Fish in Wales?

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Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Tour operators, plate manufacturers and graphic novelists have already started milking the cash cow that is Kate Middleton’s wedding. Now officials in Wales worry gold prospectors may try to cash-in, too, potentially damaging the local ecosystem. (via Demotix)

That’s assuming Kate Middleton follows royal tradition and fashions her wedding ring from a gold nugget mined in the Welsh region of Snowdonia. The late Queen Mother started the custom in 1923 using gold from the Clogau St. David’s mine at Bontddu. Since then, royal brides have exchanged rings using gold from the exact same nugget: Queen Elizabeth II in 1947, Princess Margaret in 1960, Princess Anne in 1973 and Princess Diana in 1981.

(More on TIME.com: The Royal Wedding Dress: Has Kate Chosen a Designer?)

Conservationists and environmental activists fear the April 29 nuptial will spark renewed interest in Welsh gold causing demand to spike—and sending gold prospectors into a frenzy. And that has consequences for the environment. Gold panners use shovels and hand-operated suction pumps to remove gravel and expose the bed rock of a river were the heavy metals are found. That disturbs gravel where salmon and trout have laid their eggs.

“Gold panning has occurred in these areas for many years,” a spokesman for the Environment Agency Wales (EAW) said in a statement. “However new techniques such as suction dredging, uses of sluices, excavators, increased volume of people involved, etc. have changed its nature recently and it’s an evolving situation.”

“From past evidence of…work carried out in a river involving excavation or the moving of sediments, the effects would include an increase in turbidity and the release of metals or sediments which could smother fish eggs.”

(More on TIME.com: Kate Middleton, the Prince’s Older Woman (By Six Months).)

The brouhaha over Welsh riverbeds kicked off last fall when a panhandler known locally as “Irish Brian” began excavating holes some officials say were “deep enough to drop a car into.” Authorities from the forestry commission and other local bodies then put up signs warning prospectors they “may” face unlimited fines and jail terms. It remains unclear, however, if panhandlers are actually violating the law.

There’s plenty of resistance. After all, gold has been mined in the region for more than 160 years, and the activity draws scores of tourists hoping to score valuable souvenirs. “You get people poaching for fish but you don’t ban all fishermen,” Vince Thurkettle, a full-time gold panner and former president of the World Gold Panning Association said. “There is a responsible body of panners and we want to persuade [authorities] to work with us.”

(More on TIME.com: William and Kate Release Official Engagement Photos.)

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