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“So what happens at solstice?”

“People come at the wrong time of year to look in the wrong direction at the marvellous sight of the sun appearing between two stones one of which isn’t there and some get drunk and some get high and hundreds drop litter (and others pick it up to conceal the evidence of mass disrespect) and hundreds stand on prostrate stones, which is illegal, but the authorities do nothing at the time and say nothing afterwards nor about the fact they know the gathering would be more authentic, spectacular, enjoyable, cheaper and respectful if it took place outside the circle.  Meanwhile, the millions of stakeholders who don’t go remain perplexed why guardians don’t guard and why exhibitionists are given such license to act in a way that is entirely unconnected with the past! It’s ironic, isn’t it. They’ll roll over and give the solstice attendees what they want but do everything they can to oppose the wishes of the good people of Oswestry!”

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

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 …”

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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.

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: ….

ig

SHROPSHIRE COUNCIL

Well done boys

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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!)

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!

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heritage watch

Quite a thought isn’t it? The greatest hoard for decades has yielded less knowledge than it should have. Yet who can deny it? Two things suggest it’s true. First there’s this (courtesy of Paul Barford)…. . .

bar chartIf only a way could have been found to give the farmer and finder a million or two less (like in most countries) then a million or two more could have been spent on research, for the benefit of the public.

Second, there’s this: it has just been revealed that many pieces of the hoard jigsaw are missing so can’t be researched.  Paul Barford (again) has asked the crucial question: “and the missing bits? In whose collection are they now?” We don’t know Paul, but we do know there are only 3 possibilities: a.) The missing bits were never in that field b.) The missing bits are still in that field c.) They’ve been stolen by nighthawks. Our bet is a mixture of b.) and c.) – some have been nighthawked and some are still in the field.

We base that on both logic and evidence. In 2009 when the archaeologists first organised a detecting survey, the new deep seeking machines hadn’t been invented. In 2012 when they returned and found another 90 pieces they had been but few or none were used in the search. Nighthawks on the other hand DO have deepseeking machines and we know, because we’ve photographed the evidence, that they have visited the field. Are they coming regularly, like happens at other high profile findspots? In which land of denial is that not happening?


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A reality check is long overdue. In 2012 when archaeologists went back to the site they were “stunned” that another 90 pieces turned up and said: “It’s absolutely amazing. In the last search they used top-quality equipment to go over the area, which they use to find underground stuff in Afghanistan. They were absolutely certain there was nothing else down there.” But actually, what both US and British forces were using at the time (and subsequently) were Ebex 420H machines which have little depth capability (mines are mostly at shallow depth) and are not recommended by the manufactures for use in iron contaminated soil or for finding very small targets. It would be nice if the Establishment swallowed its pride and accepted that we amateurs do have a point. They should arrange for a survey of the field using a large number of Minelab GPX 5000 and similar machines as soon as possible.

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Today we thought we’d re-publish an article from a while back. It illustrates how vital it is to continue to fight against housing within the hillfort’s setting – and to see some of the claims that are about to be made for what they are – meaningless smokescreens to aid someone to make loads of money at the expense of everyone else’s heritage. .

“If I eat your toes your legs will be safe!”

Trust me, I'm a developer!

Trust me, I’m a developer!

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Oswestry is turning into a fantasy world. Eddie Bowen, from Bowen Son and Watson, one of the development agents, has said: “There is a golden opportunity here. At the moment nobody knows what will happen from a farming point of view, but once this is done that is it. There would be a public open space around it [the hillfort] and that will secure it for the future.” In case you don’t quite take it in, he is saying that building houses round the hill fort will provide a protective ring within which no-one will build houses! . Seasoned observers of developerspeak are saying they haven’t heard such stuff since the days when those masters of the dark art, Tarmac PLC, used to claim that opencast mining round the Thornborough Henges would be good for them!

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There is NO golden opportunity here, no chance to establish a sacrosanct buffer zone, no-one can say another assault won’t ever be mounted by someone that wants to make money. If you hear it said in the next few weeks or months (and we suspect you will) it won’t make it the truth. Not that anyone should be surprised by tricky words at Oswestry. It was there that the Reverend Spooner was educated. They say he once said “You have hissed all my mystery lectures”. Maybe the people of Oswestry should say to Eddie: “We ciss on your ponservation claims….”

Oswestry - nothing to worry about

The development is to go ahead. You can take part in a Consultation – but only about the “modifications” suggested by the Inspector, not about the development itself. The document is at pains to make that extremely clear:

“Please note that the Inspector is only inviting comments on the suggested Main Modifications. Comments that do not relate to a suggested Main Modification will not be considered.”

To give you an idea how hard the door has been slammed and how ineffectual and almost insulting are the modifications, here are some of them……

Development should demonstrate appropriate regard to the significance and setting of the Old Oswestry Hill Fort……

Full archaeological assessment will be required to enhance the understanding and interpretation of the significance of the Hillfort and its wider setting …….

Ensuring long distance views to and from the Hillfort within its wider setting are conserved ……..

Development should be designed to allow views and glimpses of the Hillfort from within the site …….

The layout of development ……will be designed to minimise the landscape impact ……..

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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