Anyone still thinking “Britain’s Secret Treasures” caused no harm should do as we did, visit Regton’s in Birmingham, the UK’s largest metal detecting shop. They confirm sales, especially of “starter” machines, have rocketed. Not just shop sales either – packing of detectors purchased online was going on non-stop during our visits.

Unfortunately, Regton’s aren’t swamping these newcomers with “best practice” advice. Their “Newcomers Guide” includes a detecting code but it’s not the ethical principles CBA has laid out or even the “best we can get” words of the official Responsibility Code, it’s the slippery NCMD Code, the one that doesn’t ask members to report finds to PAS or even mention PAS at all!

So the only hope all these new treasure hunters would hear about best practice was if they heard it via the programmes. Do you recall such messages? We don’t. (Perhaps that’s why CBA have suddenly voiced some ethical home truths and English Heritage have supported them?) A young man outside Regton’s hadn’t picked up any best practice messages either. He’d driven 50 miles to kit himself out as a treasure hunter plain and simple because he’d heard on the programme (from an archaeologist!) that a first time detectorist in Scotland “took seven steps from his car and ping! There was a gold hoard worth nearly a million!”

Significantly, he didn’t seem to be aware of any best practice and seemed underwhelmed by the concept. Maybe that’s something archaeologists involved in the programmes failed to allow for: even if best practice messages are voiced people don’t necessarily give a stuff (see the Erosion Counter!) but show them seven steps to a million quid in gold and they’ll remember THAT!

Just how many new treasure hunters like that fellow have been created, some of them long-term? People who will be in the fields this weekend indulging in every sort of bad practice as they know no better or simply don’t care? A lot, we must presume. There was scant  mention of recording finds (whaaat!!) and then only in a vague way and there was not a word about avoiding undisturbed pasture, not digging deep, how unacceptable rallies are or even the importance of keeping off certain sites.

Omitting to tell people those things is unforgivable enough but coming up with the concept in the first place was even worse. Dangling the prospect of millions in gold and hoping the sort of people attracted will mostly act like archaeologists was a silly idea from the start. Should’ve asked a psychologist. Not sensible outreach at all. In fact, dare I say, hardly responsible. Whose heritage is it to take risks with? Not PAS’s. And – which is what matters most now – who will ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Update 25 July:

“Seanthecelt”, a detectorists, has perhaps condemned Britain’s Secret Treasures more resoundingly and succinctly than anyone else:
 “Regarding newcomers to the hobby, so far this series hasn’t made a single reference to the law, Scheduled sites, getting landowners permission or any of “minor details” involved. It’s going to cause a lot of prolems for us if the programme-makers don’t make the rules clear….. Those effected by gold-fever will simply buy a detector and go where they fancy, their defence “well no one said anything about laws on that telly programme”. A case of damage-limitation missed.”
It comes to something when even metal detectorists are saying PAS’s outreach is dreadful! But will PAS take note of Sean’s outreach?!

Update 26 July:
Dick Stout is an American detectorists who has stated Regton’s always hand out the official responsibility code to purchasers. That’s surprising, as there was no verbal mention of it when we were there nor was it on display amongst the 500 or so detectors, peripherals and books. In addition, it doesn’t appear on any of the 138 pages of their Catalogue and Price Guide whereas the slippery nonsense NCMD con-code that we complained about DOES appear – twice! Perhaps Regton’s is a hotbed of best practice advice, but why is it so conspicuously absent?

On another matter altogether, Mr Stout seems a nice enough fellow at heart but he displays a vast lack of understanding of the nature of metal detecting in Britain and seems to think it’s some sort of landowner’s rights issue or a matter of compulsion or persecution of detectorists. It’s not, British detectorists are the most privileged detectorists in the world and indeed are the most privileged hobbyists in Britain. ALL that is asked of them is that they keep to Best Practice in exchange for the massive benefits bestowed upon them – but they mostly won’t. Mr Stout, rather than following the lead of your particularly foul mouthed and reactionary buddy and launching crude attacks on us and British archaeologists you might care to widen the circle of your UK metal detecting informants in order to gain a more accurate view of both us and the important issues relating to artefact hunting in the UK. We can give you the contact details for instance of a particularly prominent UK detectorists who is also an archaeologists if you like. A number of UK detectorists share most of our views. How does that fit with the attacks you make on us?

(Complete silence about that from Mr Stout (what could he say?). Instead, more failure to understand what’s going on over here – no, Mr Stout we don’t owe our salaries to metal detecting and no we’re not jealous of detectorists’ finds, we’re just amateurs concerned about saving scientific knowledge that most metal detectorists can’t be bothered not to destroy. No amount of abuse can put us and not you in the wrong about that. Incidentally, you also complain we didn’t link to what you said. We will if you wish but we didn’t do so because what you wrote was so unspeakably crass we assumed you’d be embarrassed once you thought about it. The fact you have now deleted the most egregious elements proves we were right and we thank you for that.)


Of course, what Mr Stout says over in the States in support of detectorists in Britain, the worst-behaved of whom he appears to feel a need to demonstrate solidarity with is supremely irrelevant. Britain is sustaining an erosive hobby, the majority of participants in  which scorn to provide scientific compensation. The programmes have made things worse. None of that can be right.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting