Thursday 3rd August 2023 - Della Bentham
Read on to learn more about some of the basic rules of metal detecting in the UK!
A recent news piece highlighted the story of Jason Jones, metal detectorist, who discovered a 1,000-year-old Viking relic in a Norfolk field. The bronze die, which measured 5.5 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, was buried just two inches under the soil. Mr Jones had no idea what he had found at first but, after posting it on social media, he was flooded with messages from people helping him to identify the artefact. He subsequently found out the item could fetch as much as £24,000 at auction and was advised to contact The British Museum to report and record the find. He decided to put the item up for sale and has stated that he intends to split the proceeds with the landowner.
Metal detecting can be a fun pastime and, if lucky, you could find some valuable objects. However, the rules and legality around metal detecting can be complicated. It’s not always obvious where you can metal detect and who gets to keep or sell a find.
Always make sure you have permission to metal detect on any given land. This includes public spaces, woods, parks and common land. You must gain permission from the land owner as well as the tenant if the land is leased. Beaches and Crown Estate are generally fine to detect on but ensure you check prior to travelling to various places.
Do not metal detect on protected sites. It is a criminal offence to detect on important historical sites and you are likely to be prosecuted if caught. Also avoid detecting on SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) where there are nesting birds, rare fauna and flora and protected wildlife.
Unless the land owner agrees otherwise, they legally own everything found on their land. It’s advisable to have a written agreement between you and the land owner to avoid any misunderstandings or conflicts later on. A useful template for this can be found here.
Always respect the land you are detecting on and its owner by digging carefully and properly filling in any holes afterwards. Responsibly dispose of any rubbish you may have by bagging it, taking it away and binning it.
Ensure you follow the Countryside code by being respectful of crops, plants, trees and wildlife. Close any gates you open and avoid blocking field entrances.
If you dig anything unusual such as human bones, archaeological remains, burials, hoards, bombs or ammunition, stop digging immediately and seek relevant expert help.
Make sure you understand and follow the Treasure laws. Recording finds that don’t come under these laws is voluntary but recommended.
The laws are different across the UK. So, depending on where you are detecting, the following rules apply:
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
If you think you have found treasure on land in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, it is your legal responsibility to report the find to a coroner for the district in which it was found. This must be done within 14 days of finding the treasure or within 14 days of realising the find could be treasure.
If you made the find in England, contact your local FLO (Finds Liaison Officer). They will be able to advise on whether your find is potentially treasure and, where necessary, report to the coroner on your behalf. If you made the find in Wales, you can either contact your local FLO or the National Museum Wales. Failure to report treasure finds may come with hefty penalties including a prison sentence of three months and/or a heavy fine. You will also lose some, or all, of the treasure reward.
Alternatively, you can take your find to a local museum and they may report it to the coroner on your behalf if they determine it is treasure.
If you think you found treasure on land in Scotland, you should report it as soon as possible to the Treasure Trove Unit. You can find downloadable forms for this on their website. Make sure you record accurately where the item was found and hand it in to the Treasure Trove Unit at the National Museum of Scotland.
The Treasure Act 1996 provides a legal definition of treasure. Treasure is considered to be:
Now you know the basic rules of metal detecting and treasure finds in the UK, you can enjoy detecting with peace of mind that you won’t get in trouble or lose your finds. Happy treasure hunting!