OIL and gas independent Upland Resources has raised £3 million as it targets a prospect off Scotland in a development which reflects confidence among City investors in the exploration potential of the North Sea.

Upland said the fundraising will leave the firm with a strong balance sheet ahead of a busy period which is expected to include drilling the Wick well in the Moray Firth in the third quarter and activity overseas.

Chief executive Stephen Staley noted Upland raised the funding through a share placing which was oversubscribed and won support from new and existing investors. The result of the exercises appeared to provide a vote of confidence in Wick, which lies in shallow water around a mile from the shore.

“2018 will be a very exciting time for Upland with the spudding of the high impact Wick well,” said Mr Staley. He added:“I also expect continued good progress on new opportunities in Sarawak and North Africa.”

London-listed Upland reckons Wick could contain 250 million barrels.

The placing provides evidence investors are prepared to support exploration activity in the North Sea. Many cooled on the sector amid the downturn triggered by the slump in the crude price from summer 2014.

In May Upland said the Wick well was expected to cost £5.2m. It acquired a 40 per cent interest in the licence concerned from privately-owned Corallian Energy in November, noting then that the acreage contained other potential targets.

Upland completed the placing at 2.5p per share.

It had a market capitalisation of around £11.5m before the placing.