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When we say tarmacked we mean treated like Tarmac plc would – utterly destroyed for money while lots of aren’t-we-caring claptrap is mouthed by the culprits. Why can’t they just build on the ruddy thing without insulting people with the silly chat?

The site is at Bishop’s Stortford. Thousands of new homes are to be built on the town’s ironically termed “Areas of Special Restraint”. The county council’s historic environment unit says:

“Interpretation is tentative at this stage but the Hazel End site, involving trenches on both fields alongside Hazel End Road, has identified the remains of a probable burial mound, of Late Neolithic (c4500-2500BC) or Early Bronze Age date (c2500-1700BC) several ditches, pits and post-holes of probable Bronze Age date, and, in the lower field next to the River Stort, a roughly cobbled surface covered with Late Iron Age and Roman pottery. “Investigations within the larger area, enclosed by the bypass, have identified an enclosure and ditches of probable Iron Age date (c800-100BC) an enclosure of possible Roman date (further excavation may clarify this) and also another prehistoric burial or possible henge (a ritual enclosure) of late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age date (c3000-1700BC). “This circular, ditched feature appears to contain several cremation burials in the ditch and it has a central feature that may also be a burial. If so, it is potentially, an important find.

It adds: “The finds would have to be excavated in detail and recorded before new homes could be built.  Alternatively they could potentially be protected and preserved – barring new construction.”

Compare and contrast the caring, sharing developers:

“As expected on a site of this size and in this location – on the edge of a historic town – there’s archaeology but not of any particular significance and it would not prevent development occurring on our site.
“As a responsible developer we are responding to the finds by extending some of the trenches to check whether there’s anything else there.
The finds are of local interest, but the condition is such that do not warrant preservation in situ.”

Dear English Heritage and Council for British Archaeology,

How come you professionals haven’t told us farmers what “theft from landowners” means? Glasgow Uni says it’s failure to disclose finds but that isn’t right as most detectorists ask farmers to sign a paper allowing them to take most finds home without disclosing them. So PAS says something different, that theft is removing without permission i.e., without a Finds Agreement. But that’s wrong too. Most Agreements are far from blanket permissions to remove everything – see the NCMD Model Search Agreement. Two massive groups of finds are not pre-authorised to be taken home. So consider a rally attended by 500 people and PAS – but not the busy farmer:

Under the agreement an agreed percentage of finds worth over an agreed value is owed to the farmer. So when they have been taken home to Bootle or Brussels he gets lots of cheques in the post does he? Hardly. Also under the agreement the detectorist must follow the NCMD Code which says all “unusual” finds must be shown to the farmer. So when those have been taken home to Leeds and Lourdes they get posted back for him to see do they? Hardly. Yet if they don’t then removing them is theft through failure to disclose finds under the Glasgow definition and theft through removal without permission under PAS’s definition. In other words, theft by any definition!

It seems everyone knows what’s going on except us farmers! We assume little was found but PAS must often know better for it gets shown most finds at rallies it says – yet neither they nor EH nor CBA nor academics say a word. Lots about nighthawking but nothing about this, which is surely theft on a far grander scale? So I wonder who will speak out for farmers? PAS has the primary duty but history suggests they’ll always put detectorists’ wishes first. Which leaves CBA and EH. How about it chaps? PAS is hamstrung but are you?

You both encourage us to sign agreements so aren’t you obliged to advise us on the wording? Why not write one? (It would be a logical complement to the Guidelines for Rally Organisers you wrote.) Why shouldn’t we be the ones to specify the terms under which people search our land? The clue’s in the word: landowners. Something needs doing. Widespread metal detecting may be legal but widespread theft isn’t. There’s a thieving elephant in the room and you professionals aren’t telling us about it. How awful that an honorable profession such as yours can stand accused of such a thing and have nothing to say in its own defence. It’s time you regularised your position. Please.

Yours faithfully,

Farmer Silas Brown


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting



September 2012

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