Yesterday article showed the Erosion Counter at 14,005,743
Today, at about the same time of day, it showed 14,006,550, an increase of 807.
Although, if it’s true there are now 27,000 active detectorists, not 8,000, the increase should be 2,724.

In just 24 hours. In a country which is supposed to treasure its past!

It is to be hoped that those currently mulling Treasure Act reform will keep in mind the level and relentlessness nature of this daily legal erosion, which is entirely unique to Britain.

Our Artefact Erosion Counter recently ticked over 14 million. Here’s part of it together with some of the words we wrote when we set it up.

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  • Overall Total since 1975: 14,005,743

Since what happens in the fields is a secret known only to each individual, no-one can claim any particular total of the number of artefacts removed by artefact hunters engaged in metal detecting is right or wrong and this has left the issue wide open to unsupported claims and the public open to misinformation. There is one certainly only: the depletion is on a very large scale and we constructed the Counter simply to demonstrate this general truth to the public.

In order to emphasise that the seriousness of the issue was beyond reasonable denial we deliberately pitched it at a conservative level. It operates on a fundamental assumption (which it shares with the Portable Antiquities Scheme) that there are only 8,000 active detectorists in England and Wales – despite every other estimate being far higher. Similarly, the rate at which the Counter shows artefacts being found is far lower than all available pointers including a number of well- documented detecting events and detectorists’, archaeologists’ and official estimates and surveys.

The Counter may or may not be a precise reflection of the rate of depletion (and in our view it is almost certainly a very considerable under-estimate) but the broad picture it paints – of millions of artefacts being needlessly taken and society being wantonly deprived of most of the associated knowledge of its past – appears to be perfectly accurate and is at odds with the current “official” account.

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No doubt most detectorists will seek to rubbish the figure. Let them. They should know that the 14 million figure is based on our original estimate that there were 8,000 active detectorists whereas now there are 27,000.

They’ve decided, just like at Stonehenge, to enhance Turner’s view of Lincoln Cathedral by hiding the place!

Not strictly true. Yet.

But if you abandon your principles at the Government’s request regarding what conservation means, it could happen at Lincoln or elsewhere. Imagine! A vital pillar of a civilised society has been quietly removed and no-one has really noticed!


One rule for the Government and one for the rest of us is in the news. A little-noted example is the way thefts from motorists are treated differently in different places …

1.) At Avebury, theft of valuable assets from cars are reported to be on the increase. Obviously, if caught, the culprits will be punished but the police advise that “car crime can often be prevented by vigilance and common sense security precautions.”

2.) Meanwhile, at Stonehenge, Highways England, supported by various heritage bodies, are plotting to steal valuable views from tens of millions of cars.

The Stonehenge thefts would be infinitely worse than the Avebury ones. Thefts from inside cars can always be replaced. Thefts from outside them can’t. Ever.

But now there’s a plan to effectively steal the whole thing!

By Nigel Swift

A detectorist on a forum (Geoman) has just put his finger on something important:

The more detectorists that are led down the path of the comodification of the casual loss archaeological resource the further away the hobby get from its roots – it is a hobby. This process started with the Treasure Act defining certain classes of finds Treasure and unlike the old Treasure Trove, agreeing to pay a market reward for any claimed by the Crown. This theme has developed with every annual Treasure report launch at the British Museum, media hype or TV programme glorifying items as though they are common place finds to an eager public wanting some of it. And who are doing the pushing ? the PAS,museums and various academic archaeologists and historians … eager for the publicity”.

Although I don’t agree they do it for publicity per se, it looks very much as if The Establishment do it as an encouragement, leaning over backwards to give excessive praise wherever there’s a chance, even though finding something ancient or gold reveals neither talent nor virtue nor does reporting it and (too rarely) donating it.

Reporting and donating aren’t praiseworthy at all, they are the normal behaviour that ought to be expected of responsible citizens, not something that should be overly-praised like one might do to a toddler who does the right thing. That way can only lead – and does –to more recruits to the activity, something which, for all their carefully worded positivity, no archaeologist wants.

As so often before, the Irish system of heritage protection has just provided a massive negative commentary on the British one. See here: “In the first half of this year, seven illegal metal detecting incidents have been reported to the National Monuments Service“. Shock horror! Imagine! Seven in six months!

However, if we apply the Irish definition of illegal metal detecting (which broadly means metal detecting that’s not part of a pukka archaeological project) to Britain, in that time there are usually over half a million such cases.

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It’s not often we’re in agreement with English Heritage over their actions at Stonehenge but on one recent occasion we have every sympathy for them. They are being derided for pulling the feed of last month’s summer solstice on allegedly “spurious” safety grounds. Could it be though that they were citing safety grounds to be tactful?

A thousand people had defied Covid regulations and turned up at the site. A hundred of them then climbed the fence, entered the circle and stood or sat on the stones, all in defiance of the site regulations. Meanwhile, many thousands of people all over the world were waiting patiently online to see the sunrise. English Heritage said they were “disappointed”. Not many people would disagree if they had said “disgusted”.

But English Heritage were left in a quandary. Maybe they pulled the feed for security reasons but we also suspect they felt an important moment shouldn’t be viewed all over the world with a bunch of childish, look-at-me rule-breakers cavorting in the foreground and background. After all, that’s what they were all there for, to be seen, and the more they are seen the more they may break the rules in future. For some people, “look at me” is a powerful incentive and “look at me in a place I shouldn’t be, dressed in a funny costume, being a pagan-for-the-day” is even more powerful.

In the event it was cloudy. But at least those people were deprived of their “right” to be seen cavorting on “their” stones, trying to upstage the solar spectacle and ruining the experience of it for thousands of other people, so the right decision was probably taken.

Britain, being a civilised country, does a great deal to conserve it’s built environment, mostly with little fanfare. Take Malvern Hills District Council. In its area it has approximately 1900 buildings listed by Historic England as being of Special Architectural or Historic Interest including farm buildings, bridges, milestones and churches, plus 21 designated conservation areas and 54 Scheduled Monuments. It’s a massive burden on a small Local Authority and a lot of it’s work is hardly known at all.

The same pattern of quiet improvement or protection on a limited budget applies to natural history in the area. Take the two year programme of restoration of four ponds on Castlemorton Common choked with a non-native species by Malvern Hills Trust.

What you see at Malvern is what you get: an obvious need followed by a genuine improvement. Not so at Stonehenge. There, a road project is being trumpeted by Historic England et al as a conservation benefit. No. Only a longer tunnel would be conservation. One which is too short and requires a mile-long new scar across the World Heritage Site is vandalism re-named.

If such a thing was proposed at the Malvern Hills it would be called out for what it is by the Malvern Hills Trust. So how come that English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust tell people the Stonehenge Tunnel is a conservation measure?

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