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Dr Sam Hardy’s recent Europe-wide study of metal detecting was unequivocal: permissive regulation does not minimise cultural damage whereas restrictive or prohibitive regulation does. So much for decades of contrary British claims. So it’s unfortunate there’s a lobby group dedicated to spreading Britain’s laissez faire system throughout Europe and it now plans a large conference in Norwich to further that aim.
Bizarrely it will be held at a publicly financed museum and may be addressed (again!) by the publicly financed Michael Lewis of the PAS. Worse, it includes “a 3 day international detecting rally” (for £45 a head) at which hundreds of people from Bulgaria, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Belgium, France, Denmark, Croatia, Spain and Ireland will help themselves to British history and take it home or sell it.
NB though, Michael Lewis and the museum staff will not be detecting. Their professional codes prohibit it and for 20 years archaeologists have avoided being photographed doing it (it’s a big internet Dear Reader, we challenge you to find any such image!) That says it all about Britain’s laissez faire system: professionals publicly supporting what they privately don’t. Why try to impose it on Europe?
Dr Sam Hardy of the UCL Institute of Archaeology (above) has produced a detailed study of metal detecting. There is much in it to be discussed but today we highlight his central conclusion. Having examined detecting in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, England, Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and the US he finds that:
“permissive regulation is ineffective in minimising harm to heritage assets, whether in the form of licit misbehaviour or criminal damage. Restrictive and prohibitive regulation appear to be more effective, insofar as there is less overall loss of archaeological evidence.”
This flies in the face of the two justifications cited for 20 years in support of Britain’s laissez faire system – that nighthawking is lessened by it and that licit misbehaviour is lessened by it. Dr Hardy’s conclusions are unequivocal: both claims are false. It is to be hoped that his report will find its way to both Whitehall and the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group without delay. This is surely the strongest evidence so far that Britain has taken a wrong path.
“Heritage Watch” has just published the standard definition of Heritage Crime in which the only reference to metal detecting is “unauthorised excavation and metal detecting (also known as night hawking)” thereby obscuring the reality. The commonest (and most damaging) heritage crime relating to metal detecting is surely telling a farmer you took finds home without showing him as they were of no value when they were – and then covering your tracks by not reporting it to PAS.
Lest anyone thinks that’s not a heritage crime here are the bits from the Heritage Watch definition that fit it like a glove:
“any offence which targets the historic environment”
“crimes against cultural property”
and “theft of historical and cultural property”
(to which you could add fraud and obtaining money under false pretences.)
Lest anyone thinks it’s not widespread, this question hangs in the air: why does almost every finds agreement (including the “model” ones offered by the detecting bodies) fail to contain this simple, respectable clause: “I the detectorist will take nothing home without first showing it to the landowner”. It’s time Britain woke up. (Or more accurately, stopped pretending it’s not happening.)
Dear Fellow Landowners,
Take a look at this!
- “I bumped into the land owner a few months ago and he asked me what I did with my finds , did I sell them he asked . He offered to buy a small collection from his land , my reply was that he is very welcome to have a collection. Over the months I have been thinking what I could put in a display and have been putting a few finds to one side for him.”
- “First class effort , landowner should be pleased as punch.”
- “A very nice and considerate gesture”
What can one say? The finds are his not theirs. Imagine if all the money spent on PAS to support such people was spent on promoting amateur archaeology or environmental improvement or just donated to a cat’s home!
A detectorist has asked on a forum whether there are rules for sharing finds with farmers and been told “There isn’t no hard and fast rules“.
However, in the rational, well-behaved world inhabited by ramblers, amateur archaeologists and everyone else, there IS a hard and fast rule.The finds should be handed to the farmer as they are his. How hard is that to understand? The farmer can then get independent advice on their significance and value and then, only then, he can decide if he wants to reward the finder.
Any other arrangement is a blatantly unfair contract for it puts the detectorist at an unfair advantage in which he alone knows the value of the finds. Only an oik or a crook would do that yet that “no hard and fast rules” situation is supported by both the National Council for Metal Detecting and the Portable Antiquities Scheme by omitting to explain and to specify a fair contract. (The NCMD do it because detectorists want it that way and PAS do it for the same reason. But PAS are supposed to be respectable! What’s happening?)
Researchers at Newcastle University have highlighted how illegal levels of metallic waste spread on fields damages heritage by obscuring geophysical surveys. To this end the university has issued an app for the public to report it when it is seen so that a geographical database can be built up. So if you are walking along the road or a public footpath and you see something like this please use the app to report it.
You’d think that detectorists (who’ve been running a furious campaign against green waste on the grounds it reduces their ability to hunt artefacts) would be mad keen to use it, but no, they’re all terrified if they report it the farmers will sling them off their land: Here are some disgraceful but genuine quotes:
“I am just hoping the detecting community will see sense before they embark on a mission of “DOBBING UP” our most valuable supporters”
“the App is an outrage to common decency”
“Pressing the button on the app, is equivalent to pressing the self destruct button on your detector!”
“Lets just hope that farmers dont get wind of the app, or details appear in Farmers Weekly”
“The danger is that farmers find out it exists”
Needless to say, those alleged friends of heritage, the National Council for Metal Detecting have advised members not to use the App unless the farmer has given permission. Compare and contrast a similar App launched by the Ramblers Association. But then, ramblers are a different breed. They’re not on the land to take stuff for themselves. As for “Lets just hope that farmers dont get wind of the app” we hope they do. If you know any farmers we suggest you tell them!
The Government has announced a lofty ambition. Ours is to be “the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”. Quite a thought when we’ve just voted for Brexit and will lose £3 billion a year in European Environmental subsidies to farmers! Environment Secretary Angela Leadsom’s speech to the Oxford Farming Conference was strong on platitudes but weak on reassurances. Farming has been around “as long as mankind itself” has it?! That’s about as convincing as her other claim – that the Hunting Act “has not proven to be in the interests of animal welfare”!
All that’s known is that funding will continue until 2020, but what happens thereafter is unspecified. The Commons Environment Committee wants the UK to have “a new Environmental Protection Act , ensuring that the UK has an equivalent or better level of environmental protection as in the EU” but what are the chances, and what are the chances it would include archaeology – given that ours is the only country that allows thousands of people to attend hundreds of horribly acquisitive and unregulated metal detecting rallies targeted at archaeological sites every year?
Remember the Polish Detecting Club which runs detecting rallies for Polish people in Britain?
And the recent European Gold rally held by a French manufacturer for 1000 people (300 French, 30 German, many more from Italy, Ireland, Austria, Portugal, Holland, USA, Belgium and Australia) in the Cotswolds?
Well now the North American market (already served by England Detecting Adventures, Norfolk Detecting Tours, Colchester Treasure Hunting and others) has a new player. If you’re American and have 4200 dollars and (almost certainly) you’re a Trump voter, “US to UK” now offers you a new opportunity to help yourself to Britain’s history: seven full days detecting on “some of England’s richest and most desirable land”, all “guaranteed to be previously undetected”.
Needless to say, no other country on earth throws its cultural heritage open to naked commercial exploitation in this way. The Prime Minister is keen to assert that Britain is open for business and wants it to be “a global leader in free trade”. Out in the fields it already is.
China is to ban ivory trading! It’s a huge step towards the end of elephant poaching. But it’s more – it’s an endorsement of Lord Renfrew’s mantra: “collectors are the real looters” and a recognition that demand and supply are the same force. Most people accept that but those with vested interests in denying it do so. Thus, US antiquities dealer Dave Welsh says the Renfrew hypothesis is “an unproven assumption“. Well, it won’t be soon for in three years Earth will have loads more elephants, thereby demonstrating Renfrew was right.
Of course, that begs the British question: how come that in his own country Renfrew’s rule is acknowledged to apply to elephants but not to recordable artefacts? Why is it legal in Britain to acquire or sell recently dug-up but unreported antiquities when everyone except those with a vested interest can see it damages the common interest?
In a “hobby” replete with falsehoods it’s the commonest of all: “I can’t report the finds as my farmer won’t let me“. On that basis, millions of artefacts, whole swathes of knowledge, are lost to science and history.
But actually detectorists can’t pin it on farmers, for they are all well aware of PAS’s simple advice: if you can’t report, don’t detect. Here’s the latest case of blaming farmers: an NCMD official on Twitter (he of the “I’m a Detecting Liaison Officer” and “it’s best to lie to French farmers” fame):
No Mr Maloney, it’s not the farmer’s call. It’s the call of the thousands of your colleagues who persist in detecting when they’ve been told they can’t report. Shame the FLO didn’t correct you on behalf of farmers but PAS has been putting your interests above those of landowners for 20 long years so it was never going to happen, was it?
(Mind you, saying “they rarely give me findspots” is a blinding flash of honesty against a background of PAS misinformation. What’s the betting she’ll get a private message saying please never again tell the truth in public?)