The recent spate of stories where people entering the hobby having bought a relatively simple machine, exploring near a path or in woods and finding ‘treasure’ is on the increase.
In most cases to which I refer, the ‘newbie’ didn’t have the necessary permission to search. In mitigation, they said they were unaware that it was even necessary. As well as being against the law, the practice can also be rather dangerous.
Earlier this year I read that a man using a detector received for Christmas had unearthed a World War II bomb. He commented that it was really the first time he had used the machine and although the bomb was a ‘nice’ find, he would have preferred a big pot of gold. The guy was detecting on a path in a nature reserve!
He said, “I wasn’t sure what it was to start with, so I started digging down with a spade and flicked it out of the ground and onto the ground and onto the grass.” Just before that he had found a few coins in a children’s playground – or Tot Lot, for our friends across the water.
Are we doing enough at point of sale to educate new detectorists? I think not. Previously I’ve advocated that retailers should educate new buyers. Some do; some don’t. After all, it’s not a good selling point to talk about restrictions of use.
For finders in the UK, perhaps a simple leaflet in the box explaining the Treasure Act and what should be done if the new owner finds something significant might be the way forward. It isn’t enough to have a statement on the retailer’s website either – some (but not all) have detailed advice on how to buy a detector, basic kit needed and where to go for further advice, but nothing on the former. More should be done.
Would it be too much to ask manufacturers supplying the English market especially to have such documents supplied with every new machine? Perhaps there are problems with that idea that I haven’t envisaged, but surely it’s worth consideration.
Seasoned hobbyists know that ALL land in the UK has an owner whose permission is required before you can use a detector, and that it is illegal for anyone to use such a machine on a scheduled ancient monument without permission. Unfortunately, newcomers are not always so enlightened.
Importance of research
Of course I mustn’t lump ALL new detectorists under the same banner. There are many the archaeological establishment would call ‘responsible’, have learnt to seek permission before they explore a site, and do everything by the book.
The catalyst for this small article was just such a ‘newbie’ in Scotland who did all the right things, but still fell foul of the law. His tale is one from which other detectorists might benefit.
Clive (not his real name) started detecting in July 2012 when he bought a Garrett Ace 250. Within a week of joining the hobby, he was lucky enough to gain his first permission on a farm. He tells me that he was keen to get out, didn’t do any research, yet managed to find a Bronze Age sword. He was ecstatic and handed it in to the museum, complete with the exact co-ordinates of the find spot.
The next day, after doing a little simple research, his excitement soon turned to dread when he realised that the sword had been found on a scheduled site. Rather fearfully he immediately passed this information on to the (Scottish) authorities. Sounds like a paradox. He had permission, but didn’t have permission! The penalties are substantial, so you are advised to understand current legislation!
Clive realised that he had broken the law, committed a criminal offence and could be facing prosecution. Read about the law in Scotland. What followed was a nerve-wracking few weeks as he wondered what course the authorities would take. Unauthorised use of a metal detector could result in a fine of up to £1,000, and removal of any object of archaeological interest, a fine of up to £10,000.
“In the end,” said Clive, “They recognised that I had made an honest mistake and gave me a stern warning.” A valuable lesson was learned, not only about permissions, but also the importance of researching land before detecting. I thank Clive for sharing his story … he was very brave to do that and perhaps we can all benefit.
The tenant farmer may have said that you can search the land, but do you have the permission of the landowner?
The above post is a resurrected copy of one originally made in 2013, but is still relevant today