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PAS funding is declining relentlessly. The gaps left by departing archaeologists are being filled by artefact hunters. Despite PAS’s brave face about it at this week’s Conference,  that’s a bad thing surely – for detecting will carry on but the education and mitigation by archaeologists the Government said were the two reasons for letting it do so are shrinking. We suggest detectorists stump up some cash as it’s PAS that has kept them in existence. £3 a week each would provide thirty new FLOs. Trouble is,  PAS has been asking them for voluntary donations for exactly 3 months now and only a dozen people have responded.

So our suggestion wasn’t serious, it was simply to illustrate that if ever-decreasing outreach and mitigation is considered unacceptable then there’s no viable alternative to regulation. New PAS will have twigged that so hopefully they’ve said so to the Government. When 99.9% of detectorists decline to support PAS voluntarily and 70% of them decline to report their finds, the case for action makes itself. I wonder if the new management has decided that whitewashing doesn’t serve the public interest? A tweet this week from a PAS archaeologist is worth noting. It’s horse’s mouth when for once the horse isn’t being gagged:

Been FLO here for 10 years. Today detectorist told me generally detectorists in the area don’t trust PAS/BM because they get nothing back.” “Totally sick of hearing this“.


"What did PAS ever do for us?" You mean apart from PR and ID services, massive positive advocacy to the Government, landowners and the public - and survival, and all for free? Nothing mate.

“What did PAS ever do for us?”
You mean apart from PR and ID services, massive positive advocacy to the Government, landowners and the public – and survival,  and all completely free?
Nothing mate.





We wonder if the National Trust is feeling nervous about its inconsistent approach to protection of World Heritage Sites. It is striking that a member’s question asked in advance, about the National Trust’s stance on the 2.9 km tunnel at Stonehenge, resulted in no reply at the Trust’s AGM on 7 November:

“In view of its firm objection to the temporary visual impact (for 25 years) of the proposed Navitus Bay Wind Park on the setting of the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site, is the Trust now prepared to reconsider its position on proposals for widening the A303 within the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and actively demand a road solution that would not cause permanent major physical damage to the archaeological landscape of the World Heritage Site and its setting?”

The questioner pointed out that the Trust had said in its objection to the wind park:
“We are deeply concerned about the visual impact on the setting of UNESCO designated World Heritage Jurassic coast”.

The reply from the Trust (sent later by email) was as follows:
“Proposals to develop within or near World Heritage Sites always require careful consideration. We continue to support the principle of a tunnel of at least 2.9km under the Stonehenge Landscape. We believe that a well-designed and carefully located tunnel of that length could provide a significant overall benefit to the World Heritage Site landscape.

In respect of Navitus Bay there was no pre-existing harm to the setting of the World Heritage Site. We opposed the development because it was the wrong scale in the wrong place and was only resulting in harm which the developer had failed to mitigate.”

So it’s OK to object to temporarily harming the setting of one World Heritage Site while actively promoting permanent harm to the setting and fabric of another?


NT 2 faces

“Old Oswestry Hillfort” said it all on Facebook:
But beware! On Thursday 17th December, the Council will be hoping to dumb down another looming error of judgement – one that flies in the face of the public they purport to serve and the express opinion of the country’s most qualified heritage experts.

In some ways Council Leader Keith Barrow is the gift that keeps on giving for the dismal independent repugnate of Shropshireland. It is not specifically he who wants to damage a nationally important scheduled monument. It is the Council. Now that he has been found guilty of breaching the Council’s code of conduct the public is naturally calling for his resignation but that’s where the danger lies. If he succeeds in hanging on, people will think he’s the main problem. He isn’t. Worse, if (as seems far more likely) the Council throws him out they will seek to imply the stink has departed with him. But it won’t have.

Let the Campaign not focus on Mr Barrow. Let it focus on Shropshire Council (and indeed Heritage England) for supporting the unsupportable.

Shropshire Council’s grubby machinations wouldn’t normally attract attention beyond Shropshireland. However, they’ve voted to damage a nationally significant monument in defiance of national advice so they’re under national scrutiny. So let it be noted they’ve just found their Leader guilty of offending against “the principles of Integrity, Honesty and Leadership” in their Code of Conduct  but that he remains Leader!  His only punishment is that he must attend “training” to ensure such oversight” is avoided in the future. Will that help Oswestry hillfort? You decide.

Meanwhile, the evidence they’ve made a huge misjudgement on the hillfort grows ever greater and creeps ever closer. A recent appeal decision in Bredon, Worcestershire involves the same basic issues: would a housing  development within the setting of a listed building and an historic monument cause more harm than benefit? The Inspector there  ruled yes. The significance of that is that anyone who knows both places will know that by any honest measure the harm at Oswestry would be far greater than what has been judged unacceptable at Bredon (by both an Inspector and Worcestershire Council!)


It would interesting, to say the least, if the people of Oswestry laid on free transport for the Shropshire councillors to go to Bredon to see that first hand.Shropshire councillors off on a publicly funded fact-finding mission to Bredon!

It would interesting, to say the least, if the people of Oswestry laid on free transport for the Shropshire councillors to go to Bredon to see for themselves why they’ve caused such a national and international fuss. They like publicly funded fact-finding missions after all!


Perhaps, nevertheless, they’ll still insist it’s chalk and cheese and far more complex than the campaigners and distinguished national experts are saying. If so that may be yet another “oversight” on their part arising from the fact they’ve failed to read Section 72 of the Bredon decision which could surely also apply at Oswestry. Far from complex, it’s rather simple:

“In view of the weight carried by the heritage harm, this harm is the overriding factor, and is not outweighed by the benefits of the proposal. Due to this environmental harm, the proposal also does not represent sustainable development having regard to the policies in the Framework taken as a whole.”


Update 25 November

Today the evidence against Shropshire Council’s decision at Oswestry became yet nearer and yet stronger. This time it’s an Inspector’s decision at Norton Hales, Shropshire, just 33 miles from Oswestry: (

“34. On balance, I am satisfied that the minor harm that would be caused to the Conservation Area would be outweighed by the public benefits that the proposal would deliver.

35. Accordingly, material considerations indicate to me that the proposal should be allowed contrary to existing and emerging development plan
Which upholds an approach that is missing in Oswestry: build when it’s judged to be justified on balance, not when it isn’t. The latter makes people think something strange has happened.

Dear Friends,

Good news! I’ve been invited to speak at the PAS Conference on Monday. In my dreams. I’ve already written my speech. Here it is:


Ladies and Gentlemen,

What a fantastic conference this has been! I’m sure we’ll all leave with two enduring memories: first, the delight on the faces of the PAS staff that a lot of their functions are to be taken over by an army of skilled volunteers (or metal detectorists as the Scheme’s founders called them) and second, all the success stories we’ve heard about how well the Scheme has done and how responsible everyone has become. It seems that British artefact hunters and British archaeologists are now largely interchangeable  in both competence and motivation.  It makes me so, so proud to be British and a taxpayer. 

On the other hand …..

Why, when so many hoards are dug up with the haste and finesse of a starving pig, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?

Why, when 99.5% of detecting clubs don’t make reporting recordable finds mandatory, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?

Why, when some rallies have outrageous rules facilitating the ripping off of us farmers, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?

Why, when PAS confirms that vastly more finds are not declared than are, did no-one at this conference propose a solution?

and why, since all the above is the bitter harvest of 18 years of laissez faire, did no-one at this conference propose regulation as the solution?





Checking to see if there's a buried prehistoric monument down there.

Checking to see if there’s a buried prehistoric monument down there.

Dr Jim Leary has recently been awarded a grant from The Leverhulme Trust to fund a project entitled ‘Extending Histories: from Medieval Mottes to Prehistoric Round Mounds’, which will run until the end of 2017. In essence it means that he and a team of researchers from the University or Reading and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre will be investigasting a number of mottes to see if they conceal earlier prehistoric mounds, something that has recently been confirmed at Marlborough.

You’d have thought there are no massive prehistoric monuments left in Britain that aren’t well documented but it seems that may not be true and that a number of them may be hidden in plain sight. Using a variety of techniques including coring “the project seeks to uncover prehistoric mounds that were adapted for medieval defence or have been misidentified as later mottes – a previously unrecognized phenomenon that could re-write our understanding of both the later Neolithic and Norman periods.”

Read more about the Round Mounds Project on its blog here

News reached us last week that The Portman Hunt had been written to by the National Trust amid claims it’s horses and hounds damaged Hambledon Hill after the Hunt “left the recognised bridleway and came across the hill”. A National Trust volunteer was even quoted saying “They have now twice been guilty of blatant and wilful damage to a scheduled ancient monument. What, I wonder will it take to make them actually take real notice?”

Hambledon from south

Hambledon from south – Public Domain image by Prof Finn.

Lest the National Trust or others are unaware, wilful damage of a scheduled Ancient Monument is a criminal offence in this country. So why on earth are the National Trust pussy footing around with letters when they should be straight onto the police? A quick internet search shows the hunt isn’t exactly a paradigm of virtue so its explanation that they merely “left the track to round up some dogs.” should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

After all its not even as if its a first offence on this site, photographic evidence of Portman Hunt members bombing about the hillfort on quad bikes exists from a previous time as you can see below.

Portman Hunt on quad bikes on Hambledon Hill - Credit: Dorset Hunt Sabs

Portman Hunt on quad bikes on Hambledon Hill – Credit: Dorset Hunt Sabs

Those of you with long memories will recall we highlighted a different hunt last year who decided riding multiple horses over a barrow was appropriate. A trend of disrespect and contempt?


For ages The Establishment’s main defence of artefact hunting has been that ”artefact hunters find new sites. But no longer, not since “Old PAS” conceded in its final days that 70% of finds don’t get reported. There’s no public benefit in the finding of new sites if the public doesn’t benefit. Perhaps with that in mind the Twitter entity “Portable Antiquities” has this week offered a second defence: “Obviously we believe responsible metal-detecting makes a useful contribution to archaeology, highlighting sites previously known.”

But this doesn’t stand up either. If they’re “known sites” they hardly need “highlighting”. Even if they meant the sites can be “better investigated” that’s not true either if no-one is told about them (or the evidence is eroded away forever). It’s hard for the public to credit it after so many years of pro-detecting dialogue from PAS but it’s mandate is and always was just to maximise the reporting of artefacts by existing detectorists, not to defend, praise, promote or expand metal detecting. Doing so is bad enough (ask most archaeologists abroad what they think!) but the fact it is now doing so using arguments which it has itself admitted are 70% invalid is a step-change worse. “New PAS” should grasp the nettle.


Not a pretty sight. Yet how often have you heard it said he's actually a very handsome fellow who serves his people well? As Paul Barford has so succinctly put it: “we should not be cherry-picking the highlights” or as I would put it “we shouldn't put clothes or skin on an Emperor we have admitted lacks 70% of both”. There's an ugly word for that. Coincidentally this week, someone has written “Historical research and Natural Scientific research have the same aims. Both history and the natural sciences seek to form evidence-based understandings about a particular subject area”. With all due humble respect, how dare PAS imply to the public that most artefact hunting, most of which they accept destroys the library or laboratory where research could have been carried out, is in any way akin to those two laudable processes?

Not a pretty sight now it has been admitted he lacks 70% of his clothes and skin. Yet he’s consistently portrayed as being well covered with both – a handsome fellow  who serves the public well.


Coincidentally, this week someone has written : “Historical research and Natural Scientific research have the same aims. Both history and the natural sciences seek to form evidence-based understandings about a particular subject area”.  With all due humble respect, how dare  PAS say things in public that will lead the public and the taxpayer to think that most artefact hunting, 70% of which damages or destroys the library or laboratory where research could have been carried out, resembles those two laudable processes?




Salop fiefdom

{For the avoidance of doubt, we DON’T approve of real brandalism!}

Following the Lenborough Hoard debacle (the latest of dozens of hoards dug up too fast with detectorists claiming they couldn’t be guarded overnight) you’d think PAS would ensure it never happened again. But no, they ensured it would! At the BM event An Introduction to PAS and Treasure they were asked for a definitive answer about digging a hoard “on a Saturday/Sunday afternoon when you can’t get hold of the FLO.” It was the perfect moment to finally say: always guard it, never dig it but instead they said that due to PAS’s financial constraints it’s up to the individual finder on how best to secure the find spot.

That sounds to the thinking public a bit like “guard it till the archaeologists can come” but it can also be used by those who are so inclined to announce “darkness was coming so digging it out was the best way to secure it“. For the benefit of all future such barefaced liars here’s one of dozens of ways that people who are going to be holding their hands out for a Treasure reward could guard Britain’s property ……


“there was no way we could guard that hoard overnight”… Oh really? Well here’s one. There are dozens more.






November 2015
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