Back in September,  Hands off Old Oswestry Hillfort (HOOOH) pointed out that the news that Shropshire has a 5 + year surplus of housing land destroys the case for building new houses on the setting of Oswestry Hillfort.

So far, unsurprisingly, Shropshire Council hasn’t embraced that logic. However, Oswestry Town Council has now resolved to write to Shropshire Council making that very point – see their minutes, below:

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Shropshire Council’s reaction will be instructive. Some have long suspected an agenda to build houses there irrespective of the 5 year housing supply. Soon we may know. Will the hillfort’s setting be spared or will brand new reasons for not sparing it pop up?

Against the endless Portable Antiquities Scheme efforts to show how successful it is, the reality of its two main failures ought to be examined. The first is the failure over 20 long years to persuade most detectorists to report their finds. The second is more recent: the failure to publicly oppose the rise of industrialised metal detecting and the mass archaeological depletion to individual farms that goes with it.

It’s not as if it’s hard to ensure that every landowner knows that if he accepts an offer of £1,000 to allow one-off commercial exploitation of the history on his fields he may do irreversible harm to the heritage of the rest of us. Just write an article in the farming press saying that, for God’s sake!

Instead, the likes of Lets Go Digging are free to make their propositions to 50 farmers a year unopposed even though their agenda for more of the same in future is on clear display in this article on their website:

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“With every day that passes, we are seeing a substantial increase in the amount of people taking up metal detecting. Whilst the interest in the hobby and unearthing more of our lost heritage is inspiring, it is in itself creating an obstacle……We came to a decision that to acquire a permission, we had to make it worth the landowners time, so by pricing a dig at £15 for our full members, we could pay him £10 per head, in most cases a minimum of £400 and in some cases, over £1000. “
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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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Not a prehistoric issue but it’s such a a fantastic monument we can’t ignore it! English Heritage is running  a crowdfunding project to repair The Iron Bridge, possibly the most significant bridge in the world.

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Bravo for them. Already they’re well on their way to their target of £3.6million. Please help.

(Maybe they could then consider running another crowdfunding project 30 miles away at Oswestry Hill Fort, to buy off those who want to build a speculative housing estate on its setting?)

Having lost all the arguments (and been told so by UNESCO), Highways England is now resorting to the fall-back fiction that £1.6bn is all Britain can afford to spend on the Stonehenge tunnel. It’s a wicked lie, and here’s the proof:

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The public is entitled to ask: why haven’t English Heritage, Historic England and the hapless National Trust not made that same point? Surely it’s because all three see a financial or other advantage to themselves in not doing so. So much for, respectively, “standing on the spot where history happened”, “championing and protecting historic places” and “preserving and protecting the heritage at our places and spaces for ever, for everyone”!

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To The National Association of Local Councils
109 Great Russell Street
London
WC1B 3LD
nalc@nalc.gov.uk
cc.
Rescue – The British Archaeological Trust chair@rescue-archaeology.org.uk
The Council for British Archaeology
The National Council for Metal Detecting john.rigby@ncmd.co.uk
The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers admin@algao.org.uk
The All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group/ The archaeology forum taf@archaeologists.ne

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Dear Sirs,

We should be grateful if you would forward this message to each of your 10,000 members.

They will all have received many requests over the years for “metal detecting permission” (and we understand a more concerted application on behalf of detectorists may now be being considered). Mostly permission is withheld, for a variety of individual reasons, although some Councils agree to it albeit under specific conditions on the grounds that Central Government considers it reasonable for them to do so.

However, we hope your Members will accept that although a variety of non-damaging recreational uses of public land ought to be permitted, anything found within publicly owned land belongs to the public authority and it is not at liberty to allow private individuals to claim it as their own. That principle also applies, for instance, to harvesting flowers and the removal of fish, birds and mammals. In the case of archaeological artefacts the principle is of particular importance since objects may not only have monetary value but also historical value.

Accordingly, we should like to offer two suggestions under which permission for metal detecting on public land could be considered:

The Deefholts-Billingshurst method. See Item 064/09 of the Deerhurst Parish Council, Gloucestershire, in 2009 [http://www.visionwebsites.co.uk/Uploads/Site805/Files/propertyminutes-20thmay2009.pdf]
“Mr Ray Deefholts wished to speak about agenda item 9 on metal detecting. Mr Deefholts stated that he is a member of the Federation of Independent Detectorists and is seeking permission from the Council for himself and two friends to use metal detectors on Parish Council land. Smaller items found will remain in the possession of the land owner i.e. the Parish Council, but Horsham Museum may be interested in these finds. Other finds may fall under the Treasure Act….” (In other words, nothing found during metal detecting would be claimed by Mr Deefholts or his two companions).

Gleaning. In 2015 the following poster was displayed on the parish council noticeboard in Wichenford, Worcestershire. It was aimed at persuading the 200 residents to do some “gleaning” – the 18th century right of cottagers to gather left-over produce from the local fields so it can be given to needy people. It would seem to us that permission to metal detect on public land could validly be given as permission to “glean” on behalf of the needy and/or the local museum.

In my view those are the only two means by which the interests of the wider public can be protected but I am happy to be corrected.

Kind regards,
Nigel Swift
The Heritage Journal
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More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting
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You just said on the Metal Detecting FB page: “I thought you would like to see this its called a charging boar folding knife handle its Roman it has been to the museum they wanted to keep it, I love it to [sic] much to part with it.”

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Wow! So the museum can’t have it because you love it too much! And the farmer can’t have it because (presumably) you got him to sign his rights away in your favour! In which universe does that make you an amateur archaeologist and a heritage hero?

Incidentally, here’s a wild guess. The farmer is unaware the museum wants it and that you’ve refused to donate it to them! Please send us his name and address so we can tell him. Maybe he’ll then demand it back from you saying “I love it too much to part with it” and then HE can give it to the museum.  The chances of him being an avaricious anti-social self-seeking little oik are pretty remote, don’t you think?

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Here’s a thought. Being a guardian doesn’t make you an owner. You’re far more lowly than that. So if you’re a guardian of public property you mustn’t assume you know best. You might be wrong. In the words of The Talmud,“When a scholar goes to seek out a bride he should take along an ignoramus as an expert”

Examples of guardians failing to acknowledge the public are owners or to dismiss them as ignorami are legion, particularly in the heritage sector. Why else would Shropshire Council be building houses next to Oswestry Hill Fort? Why else would the National Trust be defying the view of 90% of the public over trail hunting? Why else would English Heritage be so secretive over the fact that on their watch building waste, broken glass and asbestos have been incorporated into the soil within tens of yards of the main monument at Stonehenge? Why else are they insisting their multiple mistakes in Disneyfying Tintagel are not mistakes at all? And why else are they wanting to impose this unseemly, overblown cash cow at the base of Clifford’s Tower in York?

Guardians such as those are experts in everything except the ability to understand their own humble status. Or, as George Bernard Shaw put it: “No man can be a pure specialist without being in the strict sense an idiot”. Nowhere is that reality more on display than in the Stonehenge Landscape and no-one has put the guardians in their humble place more powerfully and succinctly than James P, writing on the Stonehenge Alliance petition. He has understood something the guardians haven’t for asked why he opposes the short tunnel he has simply said “Because it’s Stonehenge” .

As regular readers will know, for the last few years we have assisted in live tweeting the annual ‘CA Live!’ conference. Organised by Current Archaeology magazine, the dates for the 2018 event have now been announced.

As in previous years, the conference will be held at Senate House in London over two days. So take out your calendars and mark the dates: Friday February 23rd and Saturday 24th. In previous years, arrangements have been made for attendees to visit an  archaeological site in London, although details of this year’s trip have yet to be confirmed.

The conference has been extremely entertaining, educational and successful in the past, and once again some of the foremost archaeological experts will be presenting their latest finds and ground-breaking research of the past year or so.

And don’t forget the awards! Although nominees are yet to be announced, winners are determined by public vote, so these truly are the People’s Awards, which you can help to determine.

So to be sure of your seat and take advantage of the subscriber’s early bird discount, book your tickets as soon as you can.

Readers may recall the two less than complementary reports about the repairs from one of our our Founding Menbers in 2016 (here and here).

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One reader had mixed feelings, commenting that they considered that some of the repairs were awful but that “overall I think it’s an improvement“.

Today however we had a further Comment expressing major concern:

“I am a lover of West Kennet Long Barrow and have visited regularly for much of my life and studied archaeology to post grad level. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to visit for a couple of years but I went today with a group of people and was utterly shocked at the so-called “repairs” made to the barrow. Its awful. This webpage is the only evidence I can find so far, so I remain unclear who did the work and why. It seems like a bodge job to me and clearly one done quickly and cheaply. There are remains of plaster within the barrow itself and the skylights are awful. I agree the old windows were tacky but they were a vast improvement to the work that has been done now, which seems to have had no respect for the intricacies of the archaeology within. Raising the floor level was an awful idea. I can only describe what’s been done as desecration and I would like to know further details so I can make a complaint.”

Inspector Mark Harrison, Heritage England’s Head of Heritage Crime, just commented about artefact thefts at Corbridge Roman site:
“We recognise that the majority of the metal detecting community comply with the rules relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land, but there are still a significant number who don’t.”

So an acknowledgment that artefacts are stolen by detectorists not an exotic separate species labelled “nighthawks”. However, the other false mantra, that the majority of detectorists “comply with the rules” remains – despite the fact that at any one time there may be 24,000 active detectorists yet in 20 years they’ve only told PAS about 1 million finds. Go figure!

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Sustaining this “false news” means landowners aren’t told that most finds from their fields will be lost to science. In addition, officialdom is reluctant to criticise – thus for example it was we not them who shamed Britain’s largest metal detector store into desisting from selling night vision gear! That was beneficial no doubt but the prevailing paradigm precludes anyone saying so.

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