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We are pleased to have received a response from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to our recent question.  

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Question Posed:
“Has PAS ensured that every landowner is aware there are metal detectors disguised as walking sticks and a new generation of deep-seeking metal detectors that pose a potential threat to archaeology?”

Response by PAS:
“In response to your question dated 28th April 2011, Roger Bland has asked me to state:
Probes such as this have been on the market for several years. They are used to locate the precise location of a metal object within a block of soil once this has been located by the search head of a metal detector. We do not think contacting every landowner to alert them to existence of these devices is either necessary or practicable.”

Our response to the Response by PAS:
These are not “probes” they are metal detectors. The manufacturers refer to them as that and nothing else and promote them for use in scanning the ground and nothing else. There is in fact no confusion whatsoever about their intended or actual use. One does not require something “disguised as a walking stick” to use as a probe in conjunction with another metal detector. One does need something disguised as a walking stick in order to search in the way the manufacturers indicate – “in areas where you couldn’t with common detectors… without arousing public interest” and to “scan places you never could scan before”.

There can be no doubt these machines would be objects of desire for nighthawks (or to be precise in this case, dayhawks), people intent on detecting without anyone knowing. It follows that there is every reason to alert every landowner about them. To say that isn’t practical is unconvincing in view of PAS’s connections to other organisations and the farming press which could surely ensure a simple message could be very widely delivered in a matter of days. In addition, it is difficult to see how it can be said that it is not necessary in view of PAS’s support for the Nighthawking Report.

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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English Heritage has objected to a windfarm proposal in the Vale of Pickering  (press report here) saying that it would be close to

an unparalleled collection of buried intact pre-historic and later landscapes and structures standing earthworks and ruins, a distinctive landscape and extensive architecture. We consider the proposed wind farm would alter the way the landscape is experienced and read and the setting of numerous heritage assets would be harmed.

It is not a “one off” (the grounds are similar for instance to their objections to a windfarm at Barnwell Manor Estate, East Northamptonshire last year) but the fact it comes when their guidelines on the general subject of “Settings” are about to be published following a public consultation must surely be significant. It suggests they are intending to object to some developments, and particularly other windfarms from now on if it can be shown they would impact upon nearby distinctive landscapes containing important collections of buried intact pre-historic and later structures, standing earthworks and ruins. In other words the “setting” of a monument is a valid basis for official opposition to developments – and archaeological landscapes (which are particularly applicable in the case of prehistoric remains) ought to be subject to protection from major visual intrusion from wind turbines.

Watch this space! (And EH’s website!).

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