A Jewellery Quarter gold firm, which grew out of a 250-year-old family business, will start mining in Mali next year after a "transformational" acquisition.

Hummingbird Resources, a gold exploration firm which also has a giant prospect in Liberia, is set to start mining far earlier than expected after a £20 million deal to buy assets in Mali from industry giant Gold Fields.

The deal, which sees Gold Fields take a chunk of Hummingbird stock, adds a new twist to the story of the Betts family, which has been trading gold bullion in the Jewellery Quarter since 1760 through Betts Metals.

The firm is run by former management consultant Dan Betts, assisted by his father, Stephen Betts, who own exploration licences covering about 173,000 acres in eastern Liberia.

Dan Betts said teaming up with Gold Fields was a strong endorsement of Hummingbird, particularly as it was lower in cash terms than many rivals.

He said: "We outbid a number of bids which were for more than £30 million in cash with a £20 million stock offer because they wanted to be involved in our business.

"That is a fantastic endorsement of Hummingbird, and a fantastic endorsement of work going on in the Jewellery Quarter."

It is thought there are 1.8 million ounces of gold in the Yanfolila project in Mali and the plan is to mine as much as 80,000 ounces in the first 12 months, and 60,000 ounces after that, generating between £35 million and £40 million a year at current prices.

The deal saw Hummingbird shares rise by eight per cent as South African firm Gold Fields is the fourth largest gold mining company in the world, employing about 50,000 people.

"I think it is pretty big news," Mr Betts said.

"For a Birmingham company to be buying an asset where a major company has invested £140 million is pretty amazing.

"This project is pretty much ready to go. We can build a mine by the end of next year, while in Liberia it will take much longer. Even if gold prices are low then it is still economically viable," he added.

"£20 million sounds a lot of money to you and me but it is not that major. If they are going to build a mine they will be wanting to spend £500 million, so this project isn't big enough for them.

"So rather than sell out they sold through shares so they still have an interest. It is a good deal from our point of view because we don't have to find the cash to do it.

"They are buying into our team and also getting exposure to our Liberia project, which may in time be something that interests someone like Gold Fields."

Gold Fields will become Hummingbird's largest shareholder following the deal with a 26.3 per cent stake while the Betts family now owns between five and 10 per cent.

Hummingbird was founded to follow what Mr Betts called a "hare-brained venture" in the jungle of West Africa.

Mr Betts' role means he spends much of his time in under-developed parts of the continent but he said he still loved the job.

He said: "I think it is the most exciting work. I don't feel remotely jaded by it. I relish the challenge."

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