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Following the National Trust decision to publish details of trail hunts on its land, Forestry England has done the same. Now, Englands largest private landowner and England’s largest public landowner both have the same stance.

When the Trust did it the number of hunts applying for licences dropped by more than half so it’s likely the same will happen on Forestry England’s land. It may be that more than a dozen more hunts will choose not to apply for licences.


Tranquillity restored to the woods ….


Have Forestry England been reading Walter de la Mare?

Hi! handsome hunting man
Fire your little gun.
Bang! Now the animal
is dead and dumb and done.
Never more to peep again, creep again, leap again,
Eat or sleep or drink again. Oh, what fun!


It’s 16 years since, at the suggestion of our much-missed friend Rebecca van der Putt, a diverse group of ordinary people interested in prehistoric sites met at an extraordinary place for a picnic.

Site of original ritual gathering. 28 July 2003

From that first meeting grew Heritage Action which subsequently morphed into The Heritage Journal which aims to promote awareness and therefore the welfare of ancient sites. It has perhaps filled a gap as it seems to have struck a chord with many people, both professional and amateur. More than 200 archaeologists have contributed to it and it has been followed by many thousands of people on Twitter (including Nelson Mandela!).

We can’t clam the Journal always says things that everyone agrees with – that would be impossible bearing in mind how many individuals contribute content to it but we can claim two things – first, that everyone that puts it together or writes anything in it has their heart in the right place when it comes to ancient sites and second that anyone with an interest in prehistory who reads it regularly is likely to find at least something to pique their interest. At least, that’s the aim. The guiding principle is to try to make it like a magazine, frequently updated with articles that vary greatly.

You could use the search box to read about the last black bear on Salisbury Plain,  Sandy Gerrard’s new insights into stone rows, the Hillfort Glow experiment, the policeman who spotted three aliens in Aveburythat the Uffington Horse may be a dog, or The Stony Raindrops of Ketley Crag …..



Lest anyone fears the desecration of our national icon is proceeding like clockwork, a couple of encouraging stories have recently emerged..

First, George Freeman, Minister of State at the Department of Transport has told Parliament “The estimated cost is £1.7 billion (or £1.92 billion including VAT)”. But who believes that figure is up-to–date and that it won’t escalate far beyond that, like HS2? Will we suddenly hear “Whoops, it’s twice or three times more than we thought so we’re going to have to review the project in terms of whether it’s value for money”?

Second: According to The Yorkshire Post Grant Shapps, who has taken over from Chris Grayling as Transport Secretary, has imposed a two page limit on information sent to him about the management of Britain’s railways and has told officials that submissions to him

“should be no longer than 2 pages with no exceptions and no annexes. The submissions should set out the issue and the recommendation. The Secretary of State will come back for more information as needed. He will pay attention to the font sizes and margins of the document.”

It would appear that “Failing Grayling” has been replaced by “Quick Snaps Shapps”! Hopefully it will only be a matter of time before one of the two page submissions he receives will admit that the scheme is ill-conceived and the cost is out of control!




ICOMOS-UK has just tweeted: “where should the line be drawn when it comes to building, for example, a wind farm next to a heritage site? Comprise seems to be the key. Food for thought from @SeaChangeConf and @HistoricEngland.

This intrigued us as we’ve often discussed the question, mostly arguing that wind farms should be built well away from heritage sites. We’ve not been alone. In 2015 Kate Mavor, when soon to be English Heritage Chief Executive, expressed similat concerns that too many wind farms were desecrating historic landscapes.
Still, as the planet warms we find the idea of compromise on wind farms persuasive. After all, they may do damage but mostly it’s not physical damage, it’s damage to the sense of place alone, and crucially it’s not permanent.
Compare the Stonehenge “short tunnel”, currently being promoted by English Heritage. There, the damage IS physical and IS permanent, yet just as the 4th Century Egyptian monks who sacked the temples proclaimed There is no such thing as robbery for those who truly possess Christ“, English Heritage is claiming “the damage is justified because we know it is.”

4th Century certainty on display in Wiltshire?

A story is going round that it’s only we who are concerned that not all of the Staffordshire hoard was recovered. It’s not and never has been. See the remarks of the proprietor of the local Brownhills Blog in 2012:

“Hmm. You’ve just bagged one of the greatest historical finds in decades – possibly ever – and you just wait until the farmer ploughs it again? For the cost of ploughing, you’d plough it repeatedly, surely? Comments below suggest plenty of willing detectorists to help out? Peculiar. Nighthawking is a real problem, BTW. I’d be quite concerned were our heritage to be purloined into private ownership and never see the light of day due to a lack of thorough searching. Cheers Bob”

And a response to him by “Warren” (probably a detectorist): “I popped over to have a chat with the detectorists, and they were not very talkative. All the one guy said to me was that they were doing a survey for English Heritage. i Noticed their detectors were of many different makes and abilities. There is no way that land is sterile yet, the latest detectors will give more depth and better results. i noticed a couple of the guys had XLT, which is a good machine but not up to the depth and recovery rates of the new machines.”

So we remain convinced that a 2009 excavation measuring 10 x 14 yards, a 2010 follow up excavation comprising 110 yards of trenches and pits and a 2012 survey using patently inadequate metal detectors will NOT have revealed all that is there. It’s not good enough, as better equipped nighthawks have known very well ever since. We shall resist suggestions we’re hysterical or ill-informed. In 2013 we wrote this, which shows who is well-informed and who isn’t:

“It has now been suggested that in 2009 archaeologists “used top-quality equipment to go over the area, which they use to find underground stuff in Afghanistan”. However, 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 (mines not being small targets).

So we remain of the very firm opinion that the subsequent launch of two machines with vastly superior depth capabilities and another with a much greater capacity to operate in iron contaminated soils signals a sky high probability that elements of the Staffordshire Hoard(s) have been stolen by nighthawks using equipment that is entirely superior to that which was employed in the original archaeological search.” [And “Warren” confirms the detectors used in 2012 were also inadequate.]


From a local paper, great news for both history lovers and thieves…

They’ve made “significant and exciting finds”. Of course, we know local thieves will have seen this and that the travelling ones elsewhere will have picked it up on Google News – and indeed that the precise location will have been plastered all over many of the detecting forums (which say they’re against nighthawking).

However, we’ve blocked out a few details to illustrate the difficulty of publicising any archaeological dig in a country that smiles so kindly on unregulated metal detecting yet apprehends and punishes so few wrongdoers in that community.

Consider this: detectorists never tell each other where they’ve found stuff, and PAS leans over backwards not to publicise detectorists’ find spots because detectorists know what will happen if they do. Yet many of the digs of archaeologists are publicised in the press for the information of every nighttime scruff. Unjust and crazy? You decide!

More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

It’s inarguable that the recent unsupervised digging up of The Chew Valley Hoard by detectorists was yet another case of blatant mass knowledge theft. But it’s only the latest of very many such incidents. As early as 2011 the Salisbury Museum director said he was glad a detectorist had stopped digging the Tisbury Hoard but “you could count on two hands the number of Bronze Age hoards which have been recorded professionally by archaeologists in this way”.

Always the “protection” excuse is given, as outlined by the UKDN Detecting Newsletter in 2011: It depends on the circumstances surrounding what you’ve found, and if you feel it would be under threat because too many people have seen it, and its location”. But such talk is nonsense, hoards can always be protected until archaeologists come and it was the duty of the detectorists at Chew Valley to do so.

On 2nd March 2014 we laid out why and how:.

From the moment you become aware you have found a significant hoard you should treat it as what it is – State Property – and if you want to be regarded as a history lover, a responsible detectorist, a potential reward recipient – or even just a half-decent citizen, you MUST take on the role of guardian on behalf of the State, and cause no further disturbance whatsoever to it or it’s context or the associated knowledge.

That means always stopping digging, whatever the circumstances, and doing everything you can to protect it until archaeologists have attended. You should do this in conjunction with the landowner if they can be found and necessary actions could include camping out nearby, getting a lighting hook-up into the field from the farm, spending the night in a parked car, asking a couple of colleagues to help guard it in exchange for a small share of a future reward or even hiring a security guard (you and the farmer could go halves on the cost out of the reward money).

We consider that failing to take on the role of guardian as outlined above is reprehensible and we would fully support the withholding of the whole of an ex-gratia reward from any finder who can be shown to have knowingly failed to do so. So please, play fair – for everyone’s sake including your own.”


More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting

Our French colleagues at HAPPAH – Halte au pillage ( and recently used Banksy’s Cave Painting image to illustrate their concerns ….


However, in a spirit of fraternal co-operation we thought we’d add something for them so they could better explain to anyone left in France who still thinks Les Rosbifs have the issue of knowledge theft under control.


It’s a 2010 image of the then Culture Minister, Ed Vaizey. Poor Ed was very badly briefed (by whom?) else he’d never have been photographed metal detecting (like employees of PAS never do!)

The truth is that even minority “responsible detecting” involves the loss of cultural and scientific knowledge, which is why not one of the last 20 French Ministres du Culture make Ed’s mistake. Hence, as HAPPAH ironically puts it, “a glorious export of the Anglo-Welsh regime in treasure hunting” won’t happen any time soon! Vive la France!

More Heritage Journal views on artefact collecting


Dr Paul Garwood (lecturer in prehistory at Birmingham University and participating archaeologist in the Stonehenge Riverside Project) has just argued that the draft Detailed Archaeological Mitigation Strategy is not fit for purpose: “It fails to pay due care and attention to the protection of the OUV attributes of the Stonehenge WHS area, and, if applied, would result in very large-scale permanent destruction of unrecorded archaeological evidence, to the detriment of both the WHS and future research.”

That’s a massive charge and uniquely convincing because Highways England have already admitted it’s true by saying they are “only willing to fund the sifting of from 4 to 14% of the ground displaced in constructing the new road”. Experts believe could mean up to 480,000 artefacts ploughed back underground forever, unexamined.

Prof Mike Parker Pearson has also put Highways England’s position beyond any chance of defensive spinning by pointing out that: “100% ploughzone recovery by hand-digging is the industry standard on land that lies within a World Heritage Site, and had been recognised as such by English Heritage and The National Trust.”

In other word, not only is the Mitigation Strategy not fit for purpose, it is recognised as such by English Heritage and The National Trust!


September 2019
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