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It happens time and again. A hard-pressed local museum appeals to the public to “save” some treasure a metal detectorist has dug up.

But save it from what? It already belongs to the Crown. So saving it from oblivion, that’s what, at the hands of someone who never owned it but who, unless they are paid a ransom, will keep it for themselves or sell it and will certainly not hand it over voluntarily else they would have.

It’s called Britain’s Treasure system, aimed to “reward” those who find stuff but won’t do the right thing by the community like amateur archaeologists would. It’s about to be reformed though so let’s hope the DCMS and the Treasure Registrar change things. After all, see this …

Above: donors. Below: a recipient. But why should there have to be donors? And why should the recipient be granted anonymity? How can either be right? Please write to the DCMS or the Treasure Registrar and ask. We’ve done so often but are never told. No wonder, since an honest answer to both questions would effectively require the use of the term “blackmail” and the metal detecting community wouldn’t like that as, try as they might, they can’t make it fit with “heroes”.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Stonehenge road and tunnel decision unlawful, rules judge.

Stonehenge campaigners are celebrating a massive victory after a judge ruled that a decision to allow a dual carriageway, road and tunnel to be built within the ancient World Heritage Site was unlawful.

The judgment effectively quashes development consent for an eight-mile road project which includes two miles of tunnel past Stonehenge and within the World Heritage Site (WHS).

The judge further concluded that the Transport Secretary had made an error of law by failing to consider alternatives to the scheme, such as a longer tunnel, which may have been less damaging to the WHS. This was despite, so the judge remarked, the World Heritage Committee raising alternatives as a vitally important issue in relation to a heritage asset of international importance.

In theory, the Government could appeal but since the judge has ruled they have ” made an error of law by failing to consider alternatives to the scheme, such as a longer tunnel, which may have been less damaging to the WHS” it seems highly unlikely, so hopefully…

FINIS! C’est tout! Bravo!

You may have thought that with the major landowners like the National Trust temporarily suspending trail hunting following scandalous revelations that it was just a front for illegal hunting, that would be the end of the wretched activity. But no, not as far as some in the Government are concerned: “Councils hand hunts more than £160,000 cash in coronavirus emergency grants. Taxpayer money supports controversial countryside activity in government scheme aimed at saving jobs

Worse still, Bath and North East Somerset Council has directed £130,000 of taxpayers money to Penny Plant Hire and Demolition despite its connection with foxhunting…

You may well recall the name of the firm. A few years ago it was convicted of ripping up half the Priddy Circles Scheduled Monument.

But for how long? Presumably only for as long as Britain’s government doesn’t find it convenient to fall down on its obligations to preserve, and our conservation organisations concoct reasons to back them up, as is happening at Stonehenge?

Up until a few days ago only two sites had suffered the ignomy of removal from the World Heritage list: the Arabian Oryx Reserve in Oman and the Elbe Valley near Dresden, Germany. Now Liverpool joins them, meaning 33% of the sites are British.

However, it’s quite possible that in the next few months both Stonehenge and the Old & New Towns of Edinburgh will also lose their designation. Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, Michteld Rossler, noted that Liverpool had been warned many years ago about the danger of being crossed out. – It is very painful to remove a site from the World Heritage List. The deletion proposal is only made when we have an analysis that concludes that the special universal value of a place has been lost and is in our analysis, she said.

If it happens to the other two sites the British Government has been warned about it will mean 60% of the neglected World Heritage sites are British.

Neglect of World Heritage monuments

The BBC has it wrong. The decision about the Government’s road programme is NOT the Stonehenge decision!

Yesterday they confused the disappointing judgement on Transport Action Network’s climate change legal challenge to the Government’s road programme with the challenge to the Stonehenge road scheme, which is on quite separate grounds. They’ve corrected the story but a confusing headline remains.

For the avoidance of doubt: the decision on the Stonehenge tunnel is still awaited.

Apparently a new pro-tunnel website, “Debunking the Stonehenge Alliance”, (membership 10, friends of Highways England), didn’t get the memo to always use images that grossly exaggerate how close the A303 is to the stones.

See their header image below. Plus our arrow. Yes, that’s the A303 which is usually depicted as dominating the scene. So hoist. Petard. Should this new organisation be re-named “Debunking the case for a Stonehenge tunnel”?


We thought we’d record the image for posterity as we suspect their friends at Highways England will ask them to remove it quick-smart!

Yesterday article showed the Erosion Counter at 14,005,743
Today, at about the same time of day, it showed 14,006,550, an increase of 807.
Although, if it’s true there are now 27,000 active detectorists, not 8,000, the increase should be 2,724.

In just 24 hours. In a country which is supposed to treasure its past!

It is to be hoped that those currently mulling Treasure Act reform will keep in mind the level and relentlessness nature of this daily legal erosion, which is entirely unique to Britain.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Our Artefact Erosion Counter recently ticked over 14 million. Here’s part of it together with some of the words we wrote when we set it up.


  • Overall Total since 1975: 14,005,743

Since what happens in the fields is a secret known only to each individual, no-one can claim any particular total of the number of artefacts removed by artefact hunters engaged in metal detecting is right or wrong and this has left the issue wide open to unsupported claims and the public open to misinformation. There is one certainly only: the depletion is on a very large scale and we constructed the Counter simply to demonstrate this general truth to the public.

In order to emphasise that the seriousness of the issue was beyond reasonable denial we deliberately pitched it at a conservative level. It operates on a fundamental assumption (which it shares with the Portable Antiquities Scheme) that there are only 8,000 active detectorists in England and Wales – despite every other estimate being far higher. Similarly, the rate at which the Counter shows artefacts being found is far lower than all available pointers including a number of well- documented detecting events and detectorists’, archaeologists’ and official estimates and surveys.

The Counter may or may not be a precise reflection of the rate of depletion (and in our view it is almost certainly a very considerable under-estimate) but the broad picture it paints – of millions of artefacts being needlessly taken and society being wantonly deprived of most of the associated knowledge of its past – appears to be perfectly accurate and is at odds with the current “official” account.


No doubt most detectorists will seek to rubbish the figure. Let them. They should know that the 14 million figure is based on our original estimate that there were 8,000 active detectorists whereas now there are 27,000.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


July 2021

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