by Nigel Swift

I recently opined (here and here) that detecting forum UKDN doesn’t feel constrained by the shackles of truth. But the same and more can be said of metal detecting clubs (despite the motto of Prince Bishop Detecting Club – “Honesty is always the best policy“!)

My central contention is that a large number of clubs present themselves as guarantors of virtue while leaving scope in their rules for individual Members to mislead landowners and/or not report finds.  And no, that’s not an unsubstantiated accusation, I can prove it. The killer issue is this: most of them make a big noise about how their members must comply with the National Council of Metal Detecting Code of Practice but (unknown to the landowners) that code is rubbish, it leaves adherents free to ignore the official Code of Responsible Detecting. This accusation comes with an invitation to prove me wrong: let them make full adherence to the Code of Responsible Detecting a strict condition of membership. No-one could then accuse them of supplying irresponsible Members with the means to mislead landowners.

I won’t hold my breath though. Non reporting detectorists don’t live in outer space, many are members of clubs – and it is presumably a wish to convenience them rather than careless drafting that causes the dialogue of so many clubs to be replete with double-speak and hidden loopholes. And it’s not just the widespread “wrong code of practice” sleight of hand that is on show, it is multifarious other ploys that mislead farmers. For instance:

1.Prince Bishop Metal Detecting Club (again): “As an act of openness [!] we are always willing to discuss with landowners the finds that come off their land”! How kind! But it translates (doesn’t it?!) as : “We’ll show you only if you ask, otherwise the stuff is ours and we’ll take it home with us”.

2.Northamptonshire Artefact Recovery Club -“we work very closely with landowners.” So closely in fact that they take the artefacts home for themselves and merely give “a photograph of each one” to the landowner! (For his “records“!)

3. South-Lancs & Cheshire Detecting Club say “It is very seldom that those who grant detecting rights on their land wish to retain any of the coins and artefacts recovered from it” Here’s a puzzle! Why should landowners be seldom interested in retaining items that detectorists are desperately keen to get hold of and which EBay features so extensively? Are they all toothless hillbillies, less educated than detectorists about history and money? Or is the only rational explanation that they aren’t very aware of exactly what is coming out of their fields? And it’s value? (Guess!)

4. Weymouth and Portland metal detecting club generously tells farmers “we are happy to share our finds on a 50/50 basis”. How kind. But if they aren’t trying to fool him shouldn’t that be “happy to share YOUR property on a 50/50 basis”? [And that club’s a doozy anyway – they have guest speakers who are coin valuers – so no pretence there then. And their club motto is buttock-clenching in the circumstances: “We leave nothing but footprints!” You can’t get truer than that….]

5.West Kirby Metal Detecting Club has yet more tricky words that will fool farmers – a Code of Conduct that tells members “Report any unusual historic finds to PAS”. Trouble is, that’s NOT what the official code of Responsible Detecting says, and it’s a deliberate weakening of it. By specifying “unusual” (which appears nowhere in the official code) it is left purely to the club member what he reports and what he doesn’t while giving farmers the strong impression the club rules require 100% recording and Official Code compliance. They don’t.

6. Yeovil Metal Detecting Club leave the barn door wide open for those that want to mislead farmers. They say they are “happy to share any items of value on a 50/50 basis” (patronising or what, considering they don’t own a molecule of them?) and they will report all worthwhile finds and findings to you”. Thus, neatly, they ensure (a.) what is of value, (b.) what is to be shared and (c.) what is to be shown to the farmer all remain entirely for the judgement of the detectorists. WHY? Do farmers ever get ripped off in the Yeovil area? Have a guess!

7. Solent Metal Detecting Club opens the barn door by a different method: it  tells members that finds “may” be recorded with PAS. Of course, saying “may” is also saying “may not”! “May” is only a word but it can make a villain look like a hero – and it wasn’t chosen by chance.

Doubtless PAS et al know I’m right, but will they do something about it? PAS itself never will, for sure (Britain has created an official life form whose optimum survival strategy lies in promoting the well-being of the problem it was created to control.) But what about “et al”, the other archaeological signatories to the Official Code of Responsible Detecting and the Rally Code. Their position is tricky, to say the least. The Official Codes encourage detectorists to join clubs and to enter Finds Agreements. But the clubs don’t prevent unacceptable behaviour, on the contrary for those that are so inclined, they facilitate it. Similarly, Finds agreements don’t provide protection for the public resource or landowners. On the contrary, for those that are so inclined, they aid injustice and irresponsibility. “Et al” have left the public and landowners of Britain wide open to being misled and ripped off by anyone so inclined. It’s surely incumbent upon them to put things right rather than persist in publicly painting the situation as acceptable (leaving it to the likes of us and Paul Barford to voice what they themselves actually think!)

There IS an interim solution, and it’s below. It borrows the Prince Bishop Detecting Club sentiment about honesty being the best policy and applies it for the benefit of landowners and the general public. I’m sure “et al” know it would be a Good Thing and that it would be simplicity itself to achieve, they would just need to advise landowners to adopt it, for their own sake and the good of the resource. One full page ad in the farming press would do more good for those that deserve it than thirteen years of uphill outreach! Some people might object but advising farmers on the conditions they should lay down for access to their own land is not exactly unreasonable, the dimmest of MPs and BBC producers would see that, so the non-recording and pocket-loving sector of the metal detecting community would be left as the only objectors.

So will “et al” say…..

Yes, in the unfortunate situation where Parliament hasn’t stepped in and absolutely anyone can go metal detecting without constraint, that really is the only way the property interests of farmers and the cultural interests of society can be protected

Or will they keep silent yet again, pretending what is clearly happening on a massive scale isn’t, and murmuring

Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie, Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by?

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More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting

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