It’s now 10 years since Culture Minister David Lammy dubbed metal detectorists “the unsung heroes of the UK’s heritage”. It caused astonishment amongst archaeologists at the time as it flew in the face of what was happening in the fields and it makes even less sense now after another 2.3 million bundles of knowledge have been lost to science through blatant non-reporting. Yet PAS has never said he was wrong. Instead they’ve gone quiet about it, dubbing detectorists, variously, as their “partners” and “citizen archaeologists”. Lately they’ve pulled out all the stops to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Treasure Act which is actually a tiny part of detecting but a great success, ergo they claim is a success for them. All this year there are “Treasure20” exhibitions at a host of museums and the public is being invited to vote for “The Nation’s Favourite Find”.

However, the whole jamboree is based on a claim that the Treasure Act “marked a radical change in the fortune of objects found …..allowing thousands of important finds to be acquired by public collections for all to enjoy” But that’s a fib. The Act didn’t “allow” anything. All it did was to start offering your money for your property. The number of detectorists who hand in their Treasure finds has grown greatly for sure, from a derisory number twenty years ago to over a thousand a year now, but neither PAS’s outreach nor the Act have done that. Your money has. Although it’s your treasure Dear Reader you’ve been paying many millions to the finders to ensure they hand your property over instead of doing what they mostly did before – quietly flogging it elsewhere. So although most Treasure is now probably declared there’s no heroism involved, just a ransom. At the same time 98% of non-Treasure items aren’t reported – but you don’t offer a ransom for those.

Not that you’ll see that reality reflected in the many Treasure 20 exhibitions round the country. At those, David Lammy rides again. They’re all about yes, wonderful things (that are yours), heroic finders and praiseworthy PAS. No mention of you paying for your own property or the endless talk on detecting forums about “how much” and “was the valuation too low?” and “are you going to appeal against it?” You should keep all that in mind if you go to look at your property.

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Poland’s environment minister, Jan Szyszko, whom green activists have criticised for allowing large-scale logging in the ancient Białowieża forest, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status, banning human intervention.

“This is an attempt by the minister to impose his own narrative,” said activist Katarzyna Kościesza of the ClientEarth environmental group.”

Meanwhile in England, despite what UNESCO has said to them (“It is not considered satisfactory to suggest that the benefits from a 2.9km tunnel to the centre of the property can offset significant damage”) English Heritage, Historic England and the National Trust are attempting to impose their own narrative on the Stonehenge Landscape.

 

Libya’s General Tourism Authority has criticized the decision of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to place five archaeological sites in Libya on the endangered world heritage list!

Imagine that! A country resisting UNESCO’s concern for the preservation of its cultural sites!

And yet…. UNESCO’s statement that Britain’s intention to inflict massive damage on the Stonehenge World Heritage Landscape is not acceptable has so far been met with a wall of silence from English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust. It can be confidently assumed that they are set to fight UNESCO on this issue, every bitter step of the way. (Unless of course the Queen says the too-short tunnel is being dropped this morning in which case they’ll all be saying how damn pleased they are!)

Still, those bodies are not Britain. Please demonstrate that fact by signing the Stonehenge Alliance petition and by writing to UNESCO. By the way, the Government absolutely, categorically doesn’t want you to write to UNESCO direct about this. They say it will “serve no useful purpose” and your concerns “would be better directed to the UK Government, where the facts can be properly addressed and clarified“. Bet they would!

English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust contend that a short tunnel at Stonehenge would be a net improvement and therefore justified. But now UNESCO has delivered a very clear no:

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“It is not considered satisfactory to suggest that the benefits from a 2.9km tunnel to the centre of the property can offset significant damage from lengths of four lane approach roads in cuttings elsewhere in the property…. The potential impact of some 2.2km of four lane approach roads in cuttings on the Stonehenge landscape could fundamentally compromise the OUV of the property….. The World Heritage Committee….Urges the State Party to explore further options with a view to avoiding impacts on the OUV of the property, including: (1.) The F10 non-tunnel by-pass option to the south of the property, (2.) Longer tunnel options to remove dual carriageway cuttings from the property and further detailed investigations regarding tunnel alignment and both east and west portal locations;

They appear to have deliberately left zero room for argument – for in 2015 the Government stated: “the UK Government has committed to working closely with UNESCO and its advisors ICOMOS throughout this process”. That surely means they wouldn’t and couldn’t defy UNESCO on a central matter of principle?

At a time when detectorists persuade farmers to deep plough to maximise their loot, when a huge registered business called Lets Go Digging is paying up to £1,000 to get access to farms and at a time when Dr Sam Hardy’s work is pointing to between 90 and 98 percent of recordable finds not being reported, we’d like to make the point we made a few years ago:

“Ever heard PAS or the Government say “not reporting detecting finds is immoral?” How come? Well, Britain is special. It’s the country where theft of society’s knowledge of it’s past isn’t morally indefensible – even though it used to be. Back in 2001 PAS asserted “The Scheme believes that people have a moral obligation to their heritage.” Not now though. They won’t even say not reporting finds is irresponsible so there’s no chance of them saying it’s immoral!

Why the change? We think it dates from when it became evident that most detectorists take “voluntary” to mean “not necessary”. At that point, for the Scheme to assert reporting was necessary on moral grounds would be to point out a too-painful truth to their partners and indeed to their funders. Thus, “moral obligation” has been dropped. Oh to be a British artefact hunter, free of an obligation to the rest of society!”

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Bonkers Britain, uniquely in the world, has painted itself into a corner where theft of society’s knowledge can’t be described as immoral. Don’t believe us? Write to PAS, or one of the FLOs or the Government. Ask them straight out: “do you think not reporting detecting finds is immoral?” If they don’t say yes you’ll know we’re right. PS: Paul Barford has just done it. In case he doesn’t get a reply why don’t YOU do it too, Dear Reader? (You can get the PAS email addresses from his article).

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The PAS Guidance is clear:don’t detect below the disturbed plough soil“. So are the Guidelines for Landowners: “if requested by a finder deep-ploughing should be resisted.”  Trouble is, most detectorists don’t care about doing right – why else are more than 90% of recordable finds not reported? And why else do we get outrageous public statements like this:

“Have you got a permission that’s stopped producing? If you get on well with the farmer why not ask them very, very nicely if they will drive their deepest plow over it for you. Might take a bit of cash incentive but will completely refresh the field”.

And this (just this week, from the organiser of a detecting rally): “The farmer has been persuaded to deep plough and sub soil all worked land so the already productive fields will surely yield more!

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The upshot of 20 years of laissez faire: enhanced ransacking by “refreshing” the fields.

 

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Try not to panic, Dear Reader:

“Delays expected on A303 ahead of Summer Solstice/Highways England is warning drivers of the risk of potential delays/  Congestion can be expected/a 40mph speed limit will be in place on the A303 between the Countess roundabout and Longbarrow roundabout/ lay-bys closed/ dual carriageway between Countess roundabout and Stonehenge Cottages will be reduced to a single lane” … and so on.
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Yes we get it, it will be busy, it always is. But with 25,000 people expected, no busier than usual and less busy than sometimes – and of course far less busy than countless football matches and other events that Highways England make absolutely no fuss about in the press.
Could it possibly be they want to make a meal of it as part of their pro-tunnel campaign?! They have form. Remember this (for which they subsequently had to apologise) …..
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Highways England tries to manipulate local opinion in favour of cultural vandalism
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Progress on reducing the depredations caused by illegal metal detecting is slow but this week in Lincolnshire there’s good news. Police are evaluating drones with a view to deploying them county-wide in the fight against “rural crime”. That term covers some of Britain’s grubbiest activities – theft of farm equipment and livestock, arson, poaching, dog fighting, fly tipping, hare coursing, and of course nighthawking.

The sooner drones are acquired by every police authority the better. Soon, stealing archaeological artefacts from archaeological sites or open farmland  under cover of darkness is going to become far more risky..

Soon darkness won’t provide cover

Of course, as we’ve always stressed, nighthawking is dwarfed by broad daylight losses due to non-disclosure by legal detectorists. (As a detectorist on a forum revealed, when he showed some finds to a farmer he got the response: “Do you know, I’ve had about 16 detectorists on that field over the past twenty years, and not ONE has showed me a thing. I thought they weren’t finding anything“). Nevertheless, seriously reducing nighthawking through deploying drones is a very welcome start.

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For some reason The word “Theresa” has been spelled out on the Cerne Abbot Giant’s penis. The painted hardboard letters were added on Monday. The National Trust, which manages the protected site, slammed the prank amid fears it had damaged the figure, which is both a Scheduled Ancient Monument and part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest). National Trust countryside manager Rob Rhodes said:

“It is a time-consuming waste of our resources as a charity to repair the damage and clean up after such incidents when the money we are given could be spent instead on other conservation projects. As a Scheduled Ancient Monument, the giant has the highest archaeological protection and any damage from pegging down boards would be an offence. The site is also protected as important chalk grassland for its wildflowers, and the butterflies and wildlife that supports, and is easily damaged.”

Well yes, but we have been protesting for years (16 times since 2010) about guardians such as the Trust not taking a strong and consistent line against ALL brandalism, for fear of damaging copycatting. On occasion guardians have even taken payment to allow stunts. Let’s hope they now understand. Amusing yes, but ultimately damaging too.

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