Do Central Searchers hold unacceptable rallies? No question. Knowingly detecting where damage is caused, refusing to take professional advice to desist and allowing participants to keep non-Treasure finds worth up to a massive £2,000 without sharing with the landowner (and leaving the detectorists alone to decide if things ARE worth £2,000!) Yet the Establishment won’t say so out loud and leaves it to the likes of us to say it and to take the consequent nasty flack that ought to be their professional burden. That’s the way it is in crazy Britain, where the government has decreed that professionals must suppress conservation principles in favour of lickspittle populism.
But we have found even worse behaviour within this vulgar world of crassfestery that British public policy has spawned – once again with no public demur from professionals or even any sign they are aware of it. Consider the terms of the Contract available on the Rally UK forum for use by organisers of metal detecting events: never mind £2000, this allows the detectorist to keep ALL non-Treasure items whatever their value and not give a penny to the landowner. You might well think that’s a monumental rip-off and reflects not a love of history but extreme greed. Yet the Contract is clearly designed to give landowners the opposite impression: “In consideration of payment of 50% of the value of any Treasure Property found the owner/occupier hereby grants to the licensee the right to enter the said land (which land is called the licensed area) and subject to the conditions herein to search for treasure, metals, buried coins and artefacts.”
From that the hapless farmer, new to all this, is likely to believe he is granting access in exchange for a significant payment by the detectorists of a 50% share of what they find. But in truth Treasure items are only 0.01% of what they will find (and probably 0% on any particular day) and anyway if they do find any then it will not be the detectorists that pay him by agreement but the taxpayer, by law! Further, the Contract is totally silent about 99.99% of what they are likely to find so the detectorists will be free to take those home for themselves or sell them on EBay and not share a penny of them with the farmer – indeed, he has signed to give them permission to do that, by default, if he but knew.
Not much of a deal for him is it, considering he started the day owning 100% of everything in his field and will end up in the evening with the detectorists taking home everything they find and giving him nothing for it. It’s a cleverly worded rip-off, who can possibly pretend otherwise?
This is a serious matter for the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Attending rallies that everyone knows cause damage is one thing, and we understand the cleft stick they see themselves in (though we disagree with their failure to express huge disapproval). But attending an event where the detectorists have got the farmer to sign a contract that, unappreciated by him, leaves the door invitingly open for mendacious avarice and the picking of his artefactual pocket ! (Prose too purple PAS Management? You try being ripped off on your own land at an event attended by officialdom that knows you’re being ripped off but doesn’t tell you, see what colour YOU go!)
It seems to us PAS cannot possibly turn a blind eye to this and ought to warn farmers long and loud about it (and not just in a few local talks to them but by posting a formal notification on all the relevant websites). They should also start examining the Landowner/Organiser Contract before they attend any rally as a matter of routine. “Partnership” with metal detectorists in order to try to get them on side was never viable since it is partnership with “taking” (see the recent changes to the IfA code of ethics). But extending the strategy to include mutely standing by as one’s partners bamboozle innocent members of society? There’s a racket going on, PAS. What are you going to do about it? What would be your defence if a farmer stood up and blamed you for not warning him (despite us having put you on notice about it?)