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By Nigel Swift

I wasn’t there but I think the central difficulty of being a FLO was on show – knowing the actualités of unregulated metal detecting yet asked by PAS to keep chirpy. Adam Daubney, a thoughtful FLO for many years, has given bullet points from his talk. They highlight the cleft stick PAS has carved for itself:


“people have a right to knowledge”
Exactly! But how often does PAS say so to farmers and the public? Merely emphasising the positive was not the founders’ intention. “Sharing knowledge” was a strategic objectives, not filtered, not minimised and preferably weekly.

“Many finds don’t get reported, but at the same time we have one of the largest databases of public finds in the world. It is within this tension that I think the Scheme has its voice when it shares knowledge.”
Actually, there’s no tension in truth. Rescue has said, and PAS hasn’t denied, the payback doesn’t justify the damage and PAS’s duty is to tell that to farmers and the public, preferably weekly. There’s ying and yang but they’re not equal.

“If the law is unlikely to change, how do we ensure we share knowledge in way that changes the culture to one in which non-reporting is seen as unethical?”
But non-reporting IS unethical so PAS should say so to farmers and the public, preferably weekly. Especially farmers who control detecting access and will take more heed than most detectorists. Also, to say “the law is unlikely to change“ is unwise. Public opinion sometimes changes and only one thing is certain: the law won’t change unless archaeologists including PAS stress that it should.

“The PAS is, of course, a pragmatic scheme, but being pragmatic doesn’t mean we must compromise on our values.”
Absolutely! A duty to inform farmers and the public, preferably weekly, isn’t a duty to partially inform. And why the need to be pragmatic anyway? Not to promote detecting, PAS has no mandate for that. Nor to avoid offending detectorists, “responsible” ones won’t be and the rest should be confronted.

“Lasting cultural change will come when the general public understands the importance and ethics of a pro-recording culture. The stories we tell to the public should highlight our successes, but they must also call out the issues.”
Exactly! When the general public and farmers understand, not when most detectorists do, 20 years have proved the latter will never happen.


For 20 years PAS has said, as paraphrased by Paul Barford, that “we done good this year…..we’ve got this more or less under control, just keep giving us the cash” whereas only the true story, warts and all, presented to farmers and the public, preferably weekly, can ever work. The majority of detectorists have shown that’s true, beyond all hope of denial. “Give us time Nigel”, as Adam said to me nearly 20 years ago, has become give us a third decade. Let’s hope PAS itself and CBA and others join Rescue in saying it’s time to change gear.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

A message on Upton Upon Severn village Facebook: “EARN BETWEEN £200 AND £1000 CASH per day” by allowing metal detecting on your land. They’ll “record any treasure trove items to British museum” but crucially there’s no mention of the other 99.9% of recordable finds. So make no mistake: it’s an attempt to buy access that will result in extensive cultural knowledge theft.

And it’s not just Upton. The company behind it, Let’s Go Digging, is massive and currently has 10 identical appeals to other communities on Facebook alone, including at Avebury (Heaven help us!).

Let PAS take note: THAT’s how you do effective outreach to farmers. It’s called taking a professional, 21st Century approach to communicating and giving a strong, unmistakeable message. If only they hadn’t spent all those years ignoring our constant pleas for them to give their message in full page adverts in the press then they’d be winning the conservation war, not him. We look forward to them messaging those ten Facebook pages and a large number of others imminently.


Upton Upon Severn, Middle England, site of the Battle of Upton, home to five famous music festivals, current Britain in Bloom National Gold Medallist and nominated by the Sunday Times as one of the best places in Britain to live. But as they have a shortage of sufficient residents willing to steal cultural knowledge from the surrounding fields one of them is going to import hundreds of people in cammo gear to do it.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Hey National Trust, could that be a fox? 



How embarrassing if it was – when this year they aren’t allowing a vote to reverse last year’s PR blunder of continuing to allow trail hunting on their land.

Plus, just this week the RSPCA has called for animal welfare to be taught in schools so when children like those in the picture are adult National Trust members they’ll vote against trail hunting in disgust in their thousands. Public sentiment is moving in one direction inexorably so why not announce at this year’s meeting that you got it completely wrong and you’re banning it?

[And on that subject: is there anyone inside the National Trust who still believes the short tunnel at Stonehenge should be supported? We sincerely doubt it. What a strange, strained atmosphere it will be at the meeting on Saturday! Unless of course the Trust suddenly does the right thing on both fronts].


After so many years of  us being blaggarded by detectorists and derided by PAS Rescue has published its Policy for the Future conforming with much that we and Paul Barford have been saying! Their central assertion, the absolute game changer, is that Rescue believes that unregulated hobby detecting and other fieldwork does not contribute sufficient value or information to our understanding of the past to justify the damage caused to the wider archaeological resource”.

Revelling in being entirely vindicated is childish, so we’ll refrain.

Their message couldn’t be clearer: unregulated metal detecting isn’t sustainable so Britain shouldn’t tolerate it. That’s perfect timing in a week when we proposed that “sustainable metal detecting” is the only metal detecting that is justifiable in a country which respects its own heritage and that new phrase has generated a rise in Google hits in a few days from zero to 1,670. It seems like a concept whose time has come, but only if the CBA gets on board too. But why wouldn’t it? Here are some more things Rescue said that we’re virtually certain CBA agrees with:

  • We have concluded that the current system for regulating the recovery of archaeological evidence by non-professionals in the UK is inadequate.
  • The PAS has been unable to sufficiently advocate for archaeological methodologies and rigorous survey practices to underpin artefact collecting
  • Rescue calls for a national investigation into the feasibility of a licensing system for all archaeological work, including metal detecting.
  • We will advocate for all metal detecting, fieldwalking, excavation and other intrusive survey to be subject to prior authorisation
  • Rescue will also advocate for the introduction of legally enforceable compulsory reporting of all recovered archaeological material
  • We will support the creation of antiquities legislation for England that requires all offered for sale to be fully and legitimately provenanced….

It’s to be hoped the CBA will confirm that it DOES indeed agree with all that Rescue has said on this matter because for the Council for British Archaeology to be at odds with the Council of The British Archaeological Trust would surely be an intolerable situation for British archaeology?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Yesterday PAS held its annual symposium. I’d have loved to go but age, infirmity and a conspicuous lack of an invitation precluded it. The most memorable bit, for me, was reading that a FLO had said “it will take time to change culture – it’s gradual.” I nearly fell off my peacock throne for I remember the early days of PAS, 15 0r 20 years ago and a thing called the PAS Forum (all records of which have now disappeared) in which that very same FLO said that very same thing to me weekly, over and over and over. Now there are as many or more non-reporting ignorami stealing knowledge as then so “gradual” has turned out to be a word not a process, as Rescue has finally come to see.

It would be good if the proceedings are published soon but neither I nor the stakeholding public should hold our breath on that. Still, Mike Heyworth of the CBA was there, maybe he’ll publish whatever he said. I’d love that, for I recall that in November 2011 in British Archaeology, he called for ….

“more research to be carried out on the damage to archaeological sites and lost knowledge due to rallies, to provide a counter-weight to arguments put forward by the vested interests of rally organisers. If CBA members and readers of British Archaeology hear of any examples of “treasure hunting” or detecting rallies causing damage to archaeological sites, then please contact the CBA director in York. It is helpful to build up a portfolio of examples across the country to present to the government when future opportunities allow.

Well that’s something we can help him with! How many rallies cause damage? All of them surely (and there have been hundreds since he asked the question) – unless of course he can name a single one where the participants all reported all their finds and we bet he can’t. Wouldn’t it be great if it turns out he told the symposium that CBA supports what Recue has just said about unregulated metal detecting (simply that it doesn’t yield enough knowledge to justify the damage). We certainly think so and in particular that rallies are never best practice, never responsible, never harmless, never sustainable, can never be rendered otherwise by the attendance of PAS, and also that it’s a national disgrace that the biggest rally this year had a majority of foreign attendees.


It would be great if he’d said all that, and that rallies should all be legislated into the dustbin of history – and  he intends to say so in the next British Archaeology! At a time when Rescue has just come out so clearly in favour of action it’s surely not sensible for the CBA not to do the same?


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Here’s what the new view will replace forever …..


English Heritage, Historic England and The National Trust say the tunnel will “enhance appreciation” of the Stonehenge Landscape. In a Joint Statement they have said:

“Our priority is to care for and conserve Stonehenge for future generations. As part of this, we would like to see the stone circle returned to its intended landscape setting so that it can be understood and appreciated in context, without the experience being ruined by traffic.

and English Heritage has added:

A tunnel won’t remove the stones from sight. Removing the busy and noisy road means that there will be more opportunities for people to get out of their cars and explore the world heritage landscape that has for years been severed by the road.”

The public is being misinformed. You can’t “enhance” something by hiding it from 99% of those who usually see it. For free. By any rational assessment, that’s heritage theft by those whose sole function is heritage preservation.

…. which English Heritage
[“We bring the story of England to life for millions of visitors each year“],
Historic England
[“We are the public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment“]
and The National Trust
[“We look after the places you love“]

are working so hard to create?



By Nigel Swift

Smash a display case in the British Museum and it would be front page news. Do the equivalent in a field and it’s pretty much a secret. How come? The answer is simple: PAS. It was set up simply to educate yet from the start it has minimised the public’s awareness of the damage and its scale. As a result the public’s knowledge is stolen daily on a massive scale and the public isn’t told. No PAS, it isn’t enough to say “Yes, the use of the excavator was pretty poor...” it was legal knowledge theft from the rest of us by ignorami without consciences who the farmer should never have allowed past his gate. How dare you not say so for 20 years?

We first said so in 2005 when 480 acquisitive people told an elderly Lord close to Avebury don’t worry we all report our finds to PAS. It was a lie that has been repeated ever since. Yet PAS attacks us for saying so – we don’t understand, we exaggerate, we should “get on the train to Liaisonville”. (Yes, seriously! Many times!) Just last week a FLO said our article  is “fake news”, “a sham”, “click bait” and “full of half-truths and outright lies”. (Please read it. Is it?)

As always I am resentful: we’re member of the public and stakeholders and hold that our mantra “ordinary people caring for extraordinary places” applies not just to visible monuments but to buried archaeology. Plus we DO know what we’re talking about, I’ve studied detecting for 2 decades, far longer than most FLOs. Here are 450 articles, 3 million words I’ve written about it, not because I hate detecting or my mother was frightened by a detectorist but because I’m hopelessly infected by a conviction that mass non reporting is mass knowledge theft. It’s happening every week, entirely legally, a British cultural scandal and cultural loss and someone ought to highlight it weekly if PAS won’t.

And no, PAS, praising the good guys does NOT change that reality, or convert the others, it hides it and provides the perfect environment for it to flourish as all can see.

I may not be able to keep it up much longer so that FLO will have the field more to himself, but for the record nothing I’ve written has knowingly been what he claims about our latest article, “fake news”, “a sham”, “click bait” or “full of half-truths and outright lies” (as anyone who reads a few of the articles at random will see.) We believe the large scale damage and the ignorance should be known to every farmer, every taxpayer and every stakeholder – as it’s their cultural knowledge that is being silently destroyed and nothing detectorists or PAS say will change that truth. The detecting that’s owed to buried archaeology is sustainable metal detecting not responsible metal detecting. I respect the understanding of those who work for PAS sufficiently to be certain they all agree with me. But they need to say so.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

By Nigel Swift

PAS and tens of thousands of detectorists tell farmers and the public that metal detecting is mostly beneficial. Clearly that implies that well ordered and aspirational detecting should be called “beneficial metal detecting”. But it can’t be, for such a phrase would  stick in the craw of the authorities since random removal just isn’t beneficial. Hence they’ve come up with a different term: “responsible metal detecting”. That has 8,300  Google hits and an official Code of Conduct and is defined as doing it in a recommended responsible fashion. Not a beneficial fashion, NB.

I think it’s high time the tricksy linguistic cover provided by the term “responsible metal detecting” was replaced by a more accurate and aspirational one both as a guide to proper behaviour by detectorists and as an aid to better decision making by farmers. I think the proper term for gold standard, acceptable detecting is “sustainable metal detecting”. That says it all. I support sustainable metal detecting one hundred percent.

Bizarrely “sustainable metal detecting” gets you zero Google hits but we’ll now try to change that radically. By all that’s fair and honest and “responsible”, detectorists and PAS should adopt it too. If they don’t it will speak volumes.

So let’s see ….

After just 24 hours “sustainable metal detecting” now gets you 144 Google hits – 143 from us, 1 from Paul Barford (who originated the term with reference to Beach detecting) and NONE from PAS or metal detectorists. We’ll let you know how the phrase progresses and who uses it…… Updates: Now, after 48 hours it gives you 298 Google hits and after 3 days you get 517 Google hits.


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Things rarely turn out as forecast. The management of Stonehenge is evidence. Anyone seen the land trains lately? Or been told how much money was lost? Now the Telegraph’s travel article has highlighted how pro-short tunnel dialogue is coming from an organisation that is hopeless at anticipating consequences. For example:

Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, would be wise to divert his attention and money to the visitor centre first …. Don’t even think about going unless you’re prepared to queue for a long time.

It wasn’t the sight of the £50.20 walk-up family ticket price that did it, shortage of shuttle buses back from the gnarly stones themselves, or the naff bluestone gift bracelets that marred our experience, it was the toilet queues. 50-minute wait anyone? Horrible history indeed. It was a hot day and as we approached it was obvious that all wasn’t quite right when we saw a few people using the bushes directly outside the visitor centre for a quick toilet break.

Seeing the stones for the first time you can really see why the likes of Sir Tony Robinson, the Time Team presenter, has described the new tunnel as a “most brutal intrusion” – anything that would put this majestic open-air temple at risk doesn’t seem worth it.

It wasn’t getting any better ….. As we waited for a shuttle bus to take us back to the visitor centre there was a long, snaking queue, a distinct lack of buses and staff, and lots of tempers beginning fray as people weighed up whether to wait it out or take the long walk back. We were still there 25 minutes later.

Back at the visitor centre… we arrived to an ancient British scene: the toilet queue. Here, there was no information as to why a whole toilet block had been closed, resulting in a queue of around 80 people and a wait of nearly an hour… and the best we could get from the scant ‘customer services’ was that “they were aware of the situation” and it was “under control”, which didn’t extend to verifying if the toilet paper had run out. It had.

I imagined the man hours it had taken to create Stonehenge, I tried to be philosophical. All built with tools of just stone, wood and bone. That must have taken some organisation, some cooperation – a history lesson for the current owners and wannabe tunnel builders.

Contrast that with “opening day” when English Heritage claimed the Visitor Centre was “fit for purpose” and that “in high season a shuttle should be heading down the road every four minutes.” For avoidance of doubt, not a penny of the (probable) 2 billion pound tunnel cost is aimed at solving any of the above problems and no-one is claiming it will. Better to spend one thousandth of it on rectifying the current visitor experience.


October 2018
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