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Seriously, you couldn’t! Historic England has just issued an advice note “to support those involved in the Local Plan site allocation process in implementing historic environment legislation“. Bearing in mind the disastrous fruits of the Local Plan allocation process adjacent to what English Heritage says is “one of the greatest archaeological monuments of the nation” it’s well worth examining the advice.

You may recall English Heritage/Heritage England have consistently expressed concern about the proposed development but have consistently sought to find ways to mitigate its effect not to actually oppose it. You may also care to note that a spokesperson for Shropshire Council has just provided The Observer with this amazing statement: The sensitivity of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort and its setting have been recognised by Shropshire council throughout its local plan-making process, which started in 2010. However, Shropshire council does not accept that proposed development would result in substantial harm to the significance of the hill fort.”

Bearing that in mind, please read Historic England’s advice. Take this section for instance…..

• The Local Plan should set out a positive strategyfor the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment, in which the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets should be considered (NPPF paragraph 126); the associated statutory duty regarding the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a conservation area must be considered in this regard (S72, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990);

• Development will be expected to avoid or minimise conflict between any heritage asset’s conservation and any aspect of the proposal (NPPF paragraph 129);
• Great weight should be given to an asset’s conservation and the more important the asset, the greater the weight to the asset’s conservation there should be (NPPF paragraph 132);
• Harm should always be avoided in the first instance. Only where this is not possible should mitigation be considered (NPPF paragraph 152). Any harm and mitigation proposals need to be fully justified and evidenced to ensure they will be successful in reducing harm.
• The Local Plan should set out a positive strategy for the conservation and enjoyment of the historic environment, in which the desirability of sustaining and enhancing the significance of heritage assets should be considered (NPPF paragraph 126); the associated statutory duty regarding the desirability of preserving or enhancing the character or appearance of a conservation area must be considered in this regard (S72, Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990);
• Development will be expected to avoid or minimise conflict between any heritage asset’s conservation and any aspect of the proposal (NPPF para graph 129);
• Great weight should be given to an asset’s conservation and the more important the asset, the greater the weight to the asset’s conservation there should be (NPPF paragraph 132);
• Harm should always be avoided in the first instance. Only where this is not possible should mitigation be considered (NPPF paragraph 152). Any harm and mitigation proposals need to be fully justified and evidenced to ensure they will be successful in reducing harm.

Which bit of that lot is NOT breached by building an estate in the hillfort’s setting? It seems to us that either English Heritage or Heritage England or Shropshire Council or all of them aren’t following that advice. Words are cheap, aren’t they?

The imposition of a smaller PAS can hardly be taken as a compliment. Some at least in Whitehall are no longer accepting the unalloyed “good news” rhetoric. Not before time. 70% of detectorists not complying with Best Practice after 17 years of “education and persuasion” speaks for itself and the tipping point may well have been PAS’s recent acknowledgement of that reality.

We’ve always maintained PAS hasn’t been frank enough – with detectorists, landowners, stakeholders and the Government and that a more muscular outreach would definitely have yielded better results. Our simple thesis has been that praise for those who behave doesn’t encourage those who don’t, they simply quote the praise to landowners. Who can possibly deny it?

Now there’s a chance for the new management to break that cycle. Let the new PAS tell every detectorist, every landowner and every stakeholder that bad practice in metal detecting isn’t a matter for voluntary choice. It damages everyone’s interest and is therefore socially reprehensible.  Accordingly, here are ten truths we believe PAS should publicly say to all detectorists.

ten truths.


Once again, the Day of Archaeology is being held next month. This year, it falls on the 24th July.


If you’ve ever wondered what archaeologists around the world get up to on a ‘normal’ working day, then the Day of Archaeology was designed just for you! All around the world on the designated day, people working, studying or volunteering in archaeology are invited to submit photographs, videos and written blog posts covering the work they’ve been involved in during the day. The various submissions are then added to the Day of Archaeology web site, producing a varied record of the vast range of work being undertaken across the world in all fields of archaeology.

The project was founded by Matt Law and Lorna Richardson in March 2011, and has been held every year since, although the specific date varies from year to year. Run entirely by volunteers, participation in the project is completely free and past entries have encompassed the full gamut of archaeological activities. The whole Day of Archaeology relies on goodwill and a passion for public engagement, and contributions, no matter how large or small are always welcomed. The idea behind the project is to raise public awareness of the archaeological profession and it’s relevance and importance to societies around the globe.

If you are involved in an archaeological project in any capacity – working, studying or volunteering – please consider taking part this year and help make the project a success. It’s simple to register as a participant and contributions can be as long or as short as you want.

If you’re not involved in archaeology, think it’s just about the digging, but are intrigued to know what else goes on during an archaeologist’s ‘typical’ day, why not expand your horizons by keeping an eye on the project web site and Twitter feed? You might just learn something interesting!

We often mention the good work that Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust do on behalf of us all in trying to protect heritage under threat, and we’re proud to say that we support their cause.


It’s been a while coming, but their website has finally been given a bit of a makeover, and looks fresher and cleaner, making it easier to read and to find the articles of interest. But the big news is that they now also have an e-commerce component to the site (known to you and me as ‘a shop’), to be known as eRescue.

It’s now possible to sign up for membership online, and to purchase hardcopy books, PDF downloads of the ‘Rescue News’ newsletter, and other products, or to just make a donation to the cause. And as a special bonus, registered members get a discount on everything they buy via the online shop!

eRescue screenshot

There is also a special Members’ Area, called ‘Rescue Premium’. This is a bit bare at the moment, containing only a video of a talk from this year’s AGM, but I’m advised that more content will be coming soon.

As a charitable trust Rescue do not receive any state support. They are entirely reliant on the contributions of members to support their work as advocates of the historic environment, at a time of unprecedented threat. So if you care about our heritage, please stop by their website and consider joining (only £15 a year for individuals), making a donation no matter how small, or purchasing one or more items from eRescue.

Just received, a Press release from the Hands Off Old Oswestry Hillfort campaign:

Shropshire residents fighting planned housing by Old Oswestry hillfort say they are encouraged after meeting MP Owen Paterson to discuss the issues.

Campaign group HOOOH met recently with the North Shropshire MP to voice their concerns over the controversial site for 117 houses (OSW004) in Shropshire’s SAMDev local plan.

“We had a very constructive discussion with Mr Paterson, impressing on him that this is an issue not just of local but of national interest,” said campaigner and archaeologist Dr George Nash.

Mr Paterson agreed to write to Shropshire Council about residents’ contentions that inclusion of OSW004 in SAMDev has not complied with due process or planning guidelines, and their belief that the Council has misunderstood national planning policy. He will also be writing to Communities Secretary, Greg Clark, over the issues that Old Oswestry raises given its scheduled status regarding the interpretation of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework).

Campaign advisor and heritage planning expert, Tim Malim, said: “If the Council’s decision to allocate housing in the setting of a heritage asset as significant as Old Oswestry is implemented, then it sets a dangerous precedent for protected monuments across the country which the NPPF is meant to safeguard.”

Local campaigners have been waging a bitter three-year fight against ‘masterplanning’ for the north of Oswestry which formerly included land within 85m of the hillfort.

Oswestry view

Despite making a strong appeal to SAMDev examining Inspector Claire Sherratt at a public hearing last December, OSW004 (off Whittington Road) remains in Shropshire’s development blueprint.

HOOOH claims that the site promoter has never submitted a justification for OSW004 as a standalone development, and that it has only ever been put forward as part of a coordinated scheme with sites at Jasmine Gardens and Oldport Farm. These were removed from the plan at an earlier stage.

Campaigners say that delivery of houses on OSW004 is predicated on a now obsolete planning bid and would be dependent on planning applications for sites that are not in SAMDev.

The Inspector’s plan modifications are out for consultation until Monday 13 July, 2015.



By Nigel Swift

The shrinkage of the Portable Antiquities Scheme will no doubt be presented as beneficial but it’s hard to see how smaller is better. Smaller mean less reporting and less reporting means more knowledge lost to science and you and me. So an end to pretence would be refreshing. 17 years of representing the scheme as more successful than it is is quite enough. If PAS was anything like the national treasure it has been consistently painted it would now be being expanded not contracted.

It was always likely that some of the cleverer coves in Whitehall and Westminster would eventually twig that a lot of the statistics and semantics just didn’t add up (especially as, recently, PAS acknowledged our Erosion Counter was pretty truthful). 70% non-co-operation after all this time isn’t what was intended by the architects of the Scheme (nor did they anticipate that a quango would see its best chance of continued funding lay in not mentioning the figure and promoting metal detecting instead of coping with it!)

It all seemed pretty simple at the outset. A social compact in which hobbyists would behave well in exchange for legitimacy but, as is now clear, most detectorists took the legitimacy and didn’t give the good behaviour in exchange. Personally I hope that this shrinkage of PAS will eventually lead to them being forced to (and guess what? The respectable, responsible minority have no problem with that!) Here’s just one recent quote from a metal detecting forum showing just how comprehensively society has been dispossesssed by the other, unco-operative, dishonorable 70%. There really is no way it can be dressed up as untrue, is there?

“One of our farms used to have a yearly rally on it with a LOT of people detecting over the weekend. He [the landowner] then gave permission to a friend and a year later now we have exclusivity apart from the occasional guest. Why? Because nobody declared anything to him out of all those people and all those hours NOTHING of any value was ever handed in …”


Update 24 June 2015

It ought to be noted that there’s not a peep about the shrinkage of the PAS on publicly visible detecting forums. The matter has been kept to “hidden” areas where, it is to be hoped, some have put the blame on the non-co-operation of their colleagues. The only public reference to it has been indirect and in the form of ridicule of this article on the erroneous grounds that I should have used the spelling “desserts”. It’s Bonkers Britain at its finest. The main justification for unregulated artefact hunting (and non-compliance with Valetta) has been diminished and the only apparent reaction from detectorists is that three septuagenarians (combined experience of 120 years of listening to beeps in a field) argue that desserts would be better than deserts! ALL we have ever said is that that large majority of detectorists who misbehave ought to be compelled not to. We’ll stick with that view along with the vast, vast bulk of the world’s archaeologists. We’ll be on the right side of the argument in a hundred year’s time whereas most metal detectorists currently operating will be held in contempt.



A recent press release from the University of Reading:

Our knowledge of the people who worshipped at Stonehenge and worked on its construction is set to be transformed through a new project led by the University of Reading.

This summer, in collaboration with Historic England, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and Wiltshire Museum, archaeologists are embarking on an exciting three-year excavation in the Vale of Pewsey, Wiltshire.

Situated between the iconic prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, the Vale of Pewsey is a barely explored archaeological region of huge international importance. The project will investigate Marden Henge. Built around 2400 BC ‘Marden’ is the largest henge in the country and one of Britain’s most important but least understood prehistoric monuments.

Marden Henge photographed on 06-DEC-2006. © Historic England

Marden Henge photographed on 06-DEC-2006. © Historic England

Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.

Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.

“Why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. How the giant stones were transported almost defy belief. It must have been an astonishing, perhaps frightening, sight. Using the latest survey, excavation and scientific techniques, the project will reveal priceless insight into the lives of those who witnessed its construction.

“Marden Henge is located on a line which connects Stonehenge and Avebury. This poses some fascinating questions. Were the three monuments competing against each other? Or were they used by the same communities but for different occasions and ceremonies? We hope to find out.”

The Vale of Pewsey is not only rich in Neolithic archaeology. It is home to a variety of other fascinating historical monuments from various periods in history, including Roman settlements, a deserted medieval village and post-medieval water meadows. A suite of other investigations along the River Avon will explore the vital role of the Vale’s environment throughout history.

Dr Leary continued: “One of the many wonderful opportunities this excavation presents is to reveal the secret of the Vale itself. Communities throughout time settled and thrived there – a key aim of the dig is to further our understanding of how the use of the landscape evolved – from prehistory to history.”

Duncan Wilson, Historic England Chief Executive, added: “Bigger than Avebury, ten times the size of Stonehenge and half way between the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Sites, comparatively little is known about this fascinating and ancient landscape. The work will help Historic England focus on identifying sites for protection and improved management, as well as adding a new dimension to our understanding of this important archaeological environment.”

The Vale of Pewsey excavation also marks the start of the new University of Reading Archaeology Field School. Previously run at the world-famous Roman town site of Silchester, the Field School will see archaeology students and enthusiasts from Reading and across the globe join the excavation.

The six week dig runs from 15th June to 25th July. Visitors are welcome to see the excavation in progress every day, except Fridays, between 10:00am and 5pm. Groups must book in advance.

There will also be a chance for the public to visit the site at two exciting Open Days on Saturday 4th July and Saturday 18th July. To visit the excavation follow Sat Nav SN10 3RH.

We have decided to offer this attractive trophy on a quarterly basis to individuals or organisations who have caused significant avoidable harm to heritage. Readers are welcome to provide future nominations but this month the choice almost makes itself: ….



Well done boys


Update 18 June

Please note, several people have pointed out that the name of the award could cause confusion with the long-established and admirable Ig Nobel Prizes for Science so in future our award will have a new name (to be announced – suggestions welcome!)

Situated 160m above sea level, the Castle Canyke hillfort to the southeast of Bodmin in Cornwall, is not an imposing hillfort. Certainly not as imposing as, say, Old Oswestry Hillfort. And yet they have something in common – both are currently threatened by developers.

Although it is Cornwall’s largest Iron Age hill fort, Castle Canyke is certainly not as large as Oswestry – there is a small modern farm building at the centre of the fort, and walls/hedges running from this building split the fort into four roughly equal fields. The southwest quandrant boundary is the best preserved, with a large bank and small ditch. In the northwest (which provides public access via a kissing gate) the ditch is more substantial, but there is no bank remaining. To the south there are a couple of large industrial estates, to the east, the junctions of the A38 and A30 trunk roads dominate. Brown Willy & Roughtor are visible on the horizon just east of north on a clear day.

Satellite image taken from Bing Maps

Satellite image taken from Bing Maps

So nothing too remarkable, and not a lot to see on site itself, And yet there is a possible Arthurian connection, and a later historical connection which make this site important for the Cornish nation.

  • The site is a possible candidate for Kelliwic (Celliwig), Arthur’s court in “Culhwch and Olwen” and the Welsh Triads. Callywith Wood is located about a mile to the Northeast.
  • The fort is also the site where Cornish forces mustered for the Anglo-Cornish War of 1549. Nine hundred Cornishmen were subsequently executed in what has been described as “a bloodbath and the most heinous crime ever committed on British soil”

So what of the development threat here? According to the “It’s Our Cornwall” Facebook page:

Last week the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee voted by 17 votes to 2 to give Hawkstone Ltd of Surrey permission to build 750 houses at Bodmin (And a hotel, pub, shops, community building, allotments and public open space). This was despite only 1 in 4 of the houses being ‘affordable’ and calls for rejection from English Heritage.

According to one press report, “due to the steep topography of the site, it would not be financially viable for developers to adhere to the normal demand that 40 per cent of the homes should be in the affordable bracket. Instead, a compromise figure of 25 per cent, which amounts to 187 affordable homes, was reached”.

Apparently a ‘green buffer’ has also been suggested between the development and the hillfort (basically the three fields to the southeast on the plan below), but there is some discussion as to whether the buffer should consist of open space, sports fields, or be left as agricultural land. The full text of the Strategic Planning Committee’s Report can be found on the Council website (PDF link)

As can be seen, the original plan was to have built over part of the scheduled monument area.

As can be seen, the original plan was to have built over part of the scheduled monument area.

And there’s the question of the extent of the development. 750 homes in one of the most economically depressed areas in Europe sounds like a good idea to stimulate ‘growth’, but as only 1 in 4 will be designated ‘affordable’ – how I hate that word – who will be able to afford the non-affordable homes in such an area? The usual answer to such a question is larger corporations. But in order to get a return on their investment, they’ll either sell them on (who to?) or let them out at inflated rents. With very low employment and pay levels in the area, it’s difficult to see how local people will be able to live in the homes, however pleasant they may be.

Once again, it seems the only people to benefit will be the developers themselves, and to hell with the heritage!

For donkey’s years the public has been assured that “bad” metal detecting is the province of nighthawks. Lately though officialdom has come up with a definition which blows that simplistic notion out of the water.

They say heritage crime is “harming the value of heritage assets and their settings”. On that basis a lot more than nighthawks are guilty. It works like this. Thousands of “legal” detectorists take finds home without showing the landowner (often with dodgy written agreements authorising them to). That in itself isn’t exactly indicative of a fair minded fine fellow that you’d want your daughter to marry but it’s what it can lead to that matters. If you have an agreement that valuable finds must be shared 50-50 the temptation to not tell the farmer about valuable finds is intense – and crucially it follows that you aren’t going to tell The Establishment either, lest the landowner finds out. Hence, without doubt, the value of heritage assets and their settings” will be harmed. So Officialdom has been hoisted by it’s own petard – or at least by its own definition. We’ll be glad to hear a contrary opinion but don’t anticipate one will be forthcoming. Call it the British Fib, it’s been going on for 17 years.

A particularly obnoxious manifestation will take place later this year, courtesy of Central Searchers. 350 detectorists will be working under the rule that anything found worth up to £2,000 (as privately assessed by the detectorist alone) belongs entirely to the detectorist and anything worth more has to be shared with the landowner. Yes, the landowner is likely to lose out (since it is the detectorist alone who sees and values the item). But more importantly its not beyond possibility (to say the least!) that anything worth anything near £2,000 or indeed anything worth vastly more, may not be reported to the authorities for fear the farmer will find out. That’s a heritage crime and The Establishment says not a word about it.

Here’s a police poster. Not a single solitary word about not reporting being a heritage crime. The police and The Establishment will tell you that the reason for that is you need to be committing a crime to commit a heritage crime and “non reporting” isn’t a crime. However, depriving a landowner of his share IS a crime, it’s theft, so not reporting a find to conceal the fact IS a heritage crime. The British Establishment and police are lying to themselves and to the British public.

Now listen to the stony silence!


heritage watch.



June 2015

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