Metal Detecting – Advice for Beginners

25th September 2017 — 12 Comments

Planning and Good Practice for your New Hobby

Picture by JW

Remember that every single piece of land in the UK has an owner and if you want to metal detect, then you need permission. When this has been granted, always ask landowners whether they want finds recording and, if so, to what accuracy. Some will have a strict policy; some don’t. If the landowner tells you that he doesn’t wish finds to be reported, then you have a problem and little choice because he is within his rights. The general advice is to go and seek other land on which to detect. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is entirely voluntary and record all objects made before 1650.

John Maloney of the NCMD has made a personal observation, which I have welcomed: “Just a couple of thoughts Mr W … all ‘finds’ are the landowners property and if they are receiving stewardship payments then recording is mandatory for compliance. Thank you.”

Of course, all finds designated as ‘treasure’ MUST be reported within 14 days to your local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) or Coroner. Briefly, treasure is gold and silver objects or groups of coins from the same find spot which are older than 300 years. You have a legal obligation to report these under the Treasure Act. If you are fortunate enough to find Treasure, write notes as you proceed so any statements are clear and concise. Hand over what you have found, but only after taking detailed photographs – it may be your last chance to do so! If you have enough time, get a private valuation before handing you’re your find. You can see a summary of the Treasure Act online at or you may obtain a copy free of charge from your local FLO.

it is usually comparatively easy to find who owns land, but there could be occasions when that proves difficult. Most land in this country is lodged with the Land Registry and general information can be obtained from There is a small fee per individual application and a short form to complete.

Garmin Handheld GPS

Remember to take a GPS reading of any important finds you make or ensure the find spot is known by using an Ordnance Survey map and as accurately as possible – at least to a 100 metre square. The readings will be useful when you come to record, and could be handy if re-visiting the following year when the field has been re-ploughed. Bag important finds individually and record the National Grid Reference (NGR) on the packet. Look for any scattered pottery/flints etcetera as this could indicate a good place to start searching. Always make your own personal record of finds as this will help build a picture of the history of the field and will help in identifying any ‘hot spots’.

Try to get a written agreement in place before you start detecting. Some farmers and landowners will be happy with an oral arrangement about division of finds, but endeavor to get something on paper. NOTE: I have only used an ‘official’ looking agreement form once in a long detecting ‘career’, but it is policy to offer the option to landowners or their representatives. The permission form doesn’t have to be an elaborate production and could also include a liability waiver section. See the example shown below.

Don’t forget to show your National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD) or Federation of Independent Detectorists (FID) card when visiting owners of land. Details of this insurance is available on the Net. If you attend rallies or digs, the the organiser will probably insist on an NCMD or FID card. The cost is minimal.

Let’s suppose that one of the letters you sent out to landowners has borne fruit and you have been invited to visit a farmer to discuss detecting on his property. Be prepared; you want to make a good and lasting impression. Download a map of the surrounding fields using the excellent website at or Google Earth and ask the farmer to mark out the boundaries of the fields on which you have permission to search. Check with him that none are scheduled. Discuss physical arrangements for your visits – whether you need to inform him every time, where to park your vehicle, etcetera. Discuss those agreements you have printed out and get them signed. Explain (simply) the Treasure Act and what will happen to other finds. If he is interested show and discuss anything you may have already found. Exchange telephone phone numbers. Be enthusiastic.

Google Earth

The day finally arrives and you go off on your first dig. If you can afford to do so, take a ‘back up’ machine (borrowed or second hand) just in case something goes wrong with your main detector. There are some essentials you must take with you, besides your detector – for example – digger of some kind, headphones, finds’ pouch, hand held probe, gloves, suitable clothing, strong footwear, spare batteries, note book and pencil and maybe a mobile phone. You may also consider kneepads, a GPS unit, small plastic finds’ bags and a camera. After a couple of times detecting, you will know what you really need and what you don’t. Action man also takes a back pack with flask, food, a knife, wet wipes, magnifying glass, nylon brush and toilet paper. Don’t ask!

Observe the Country Code. Close all gates. If you are in a field with cattle, unsure of the area or a young detectorist detecting on your own, it may be wise to use the audio facility on your detector as you may not hear disturbed animals approaching. Only use headphones when with an adult or on an organised dig.

Never throw away any finds until at least other knowledgeable people have taken a look and given advice. If in doubt, place any unidentifiable artefacts in a ‘grot’ box. Look at them at a later date when you have more experience. Don’t clean finds unless you definitely know they have no historic or monetary value. Metal objects should be kept dry. At most gently remove loose soil from around any find. Don’t polish or use abrasives of any kind. Always remember that inexperienced cleaning can reduce both the archaeological and the commercial value of finds.

Make sure that you thank your farmers or landowners and show them what you have found. It is always good policy take them a nice bottle of something at Christmas as a token of your appreciation.

Finally, if you purchased your machine from a retailer, don’t be afraid to go back and ask for some after-sales service if you need further advice. Pre-sale information may have been clear in the shop but once you’re out in the field you can easily forget things. This is just one of the benefits of supporting your local dealer.

The Future of Detecting!


Please note that the advice given here doesn’t set out to be comprehensive. There are so many other things to consider like ways seeking permissions, how to dig a hole, storing your finds, and much more. Subjects for another blog, perhaps?


Simple Metal Detecting Permission and Liability Waiver Form

I, (Name of Farmer or Landowner) agree to allow (YOUR name and address here), to use a metal detector to search for and recover buried coins and artefacts located on my property located at (Name of Farm). I understand that recovery includes the digging of small holes that will be made good as nearly as possible to original condition. This permission will remain in effect until such time that it is revoked in writing.

—————————————-   (Signature and Date)

Liability Waiver

In consideration of permission to use a metal detector to search for and recover metal artefacts located at the above property I, (Your Name) agree to release (Name of Farmer or Landowner) from all liability for personal injury or property damage that I may suffer as the result of my searching on your property.

————————————–  (Signature, Date and Your Address)

You should also have discussed what will happen if you are fortunate enough to find treasure. The usual arrangement is for farmer (landowner) and detectorist to share on an equal basis. Whatever is decided, you should have something in writing, signed by both and dated, For example:

Monies realised from any ‘treasure’ finds will be split between us on a 50/50 basis.

————————————–  (Both Signatures and Date)


Posts Twitter

The copyright owner of content on this blog is John Winter, unless noted otherwise. Every effort has been made to assure no material was used without permission. If you are the owner and find that your material was inadvertently used without permission then please contact me. Your material will be removed immediately or your copyright message will be added, whatever you prefer.

12 responses to Metal Detecting – Advice for Beginners

  1. Excellent advice. Happy Hunting,Jerry.

  2. “Action man also takes a back pack with flask, food, a knife, wet wipes, magnifying glass, nylon brush and toilet paper. Don’t ask!”

    Nice to see a bit of humour in there as well John.. :): Very good advice for anyone.


  3. Excellent advice for new detectorist s and all detectorists john

  4. Good solid advice John

  5. Enjoyed that article even though I am from the states.

  6. Superb article john, which, even us old hands need to be aware of, and re-read the details
    Just one small point, my understanding has always been, for the purposes of the Treasure Act,
    the gold or silver content needs to be a minimum of 10% in content.

    Many thanks. O.G.J.

  7. Sound advice and I am sure it will be well appreciated by those just getting started in the hobby

  8. With such good advice John you may be asked to be a guest speaker at the Danebury Metal Detecting Club (DMDC).

  9. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 13th October 2017 at 4:43 AM

    Great article John, and something that any foreign detectorist to your country should know.

    Having just visited Detectival, I learned a lot about finds and how to document them. Not that I found any mind you, but lots of other people did! LOL….

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.