Detecting – Permission Granted?

The tenant farmer may have said that you can search the land, but do you have the permission of the landowner?

The recent spate of stories where people entering the hobby having bought a relatively simple machine, exploring near a path or in woods and finding ‘treasure’ is on the increase.

In most cases to which I refer, the ‘newbie’ didn’t have the necessary permission to search. In mitigation, they said they were unaware that it was even necessary. As well as being against the law, the practice can also be rather dangerous.

A couple of yearsago I read that a man using a detector received for Christmas had unearthed a World War II bomb. He commented that it was really the first time he had used the machine and although the bomb was a ‘nice’ find, he would have preferred a big pot of gold. The guy was detecting on a path in a nature reserve!

He said, “I wasn’t sure what it was to start with, so I started digging down with a spade and flicked it out of the ground and onto the ground and onto the grass.” Just before that he had found a few coins in a children’s playground.

Adequate Advice at Point of Sale?

Are we doing enough at point of sale to educate new detectorists? I think not. Previously I’ve advocated that retailers should educate new buyers. Some do; some don’t. After all, it’s not a good selling point to talk about restrictions of use.

Perhaps a simple leaflet in the box explaining the Treasure Act and what should be done if the new owner finds something significant might be the way forward. It isn’t enough to have a statement on the retailer’s website either – some (but not all) have detailed advice on how to buy a detector, basic kit needed and where to go for further advice, but nothing on the former. More should be done.

Would it be too much to ask manufacturers, supplying the English market especially, to have such documents supplied with every new machine? Perhaps there are problems with that idea that I haven’t envisaged, but surely it’s worth consideration.

Seasoned hobbyists know that ALL land in the UK has an owner whose permission is required before you can use a detector, and that it is illegal for anyone to use such a machine on a scheduled ancient monument without permission. Unfortunately, newcomers are not always so enlightened.

Importance of research 

Of course I mustn’t lump ALL new detectorists under the same banner. There are many the archaeological establishment would call ‘responsible’, have learnt to seek permission before they explore a site, and do everything by the book.

The catalyst for this small article was just such a ‘newbie’ who did all the right things, but still fell foul of the law. His tale is one from which other detectorists might benefit.

The complete Bronze Age Sword found by Clive

Clive (not his real name) started detecting in July 2012 when he bought a Garrett Ace 250. Within a week of joining the hobby, he was lucky enough to gain his first permission on a farm. He tells me that he was keen to get out, didn’t do any research, yet managed to find a Bronze Age sword. He was ecstatic and handed it in to the museum, complete with the exact co-ordinates of the find spot.

The next day, after doing a little simple research, his excitement soon turned to dread when he realised that the sword had been found on a scheduled site. Rather fearfully he immediately passed this information on to the authorities. Sounds like a paradox. He had permission, but didn’t have permission!

Clive realised that he had broken the law, had committed a criminal offence and could be facing prosecution. What followed was a nerve-wracking few weeks as he wondered what course the authorities would take.

“In the end,” said Clive, “They recognised that I had made an honest mistake and gave me a stern warning.” A valuable lesson was learned, not only about permissions, but also the importance of researching land before detecting. I thank Clive for sharing his story … he was very brave to do that and perhaps we can all benefit.

The tenant farmer may have said that you can search the land, but do you have the permission of the landowner?

NB: I am no longer on social media

4 thoughts on “Detecting – Permission Granted?”

  1. I’ve come across a problem hunting on a farmers field once John.

    The farmer gave me permission to hunt the field, and a few days later some guy stopped and gave me proper heck. Turns out that the farmer that gave me permission had been renting the field and didn’t actually own it, and the owner had no idea who I was or what I was doing.

    I tried explaining, but I think the owner was just too confused to listen.

    On the plus side the farmer that incorrectly gave me permission did allow me to hunt his place, but it was so full of crap that I only stayed for two hours out of courtesy for allowing me to be there in the first place.

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  2. Firstly, I fully support some printed advice accompanying new detectors regarding basic guidelines. It does no harm at all to point owners in the right direction, even some ‘experienced’ Detectorists could benefit!

    On the rights to dig, I had a long discussion a few years back with a bloke who seemed quite experienced in the hobby. He told me that he regularly walked the path of the River Tyne from the Stocksfield area towards Hexham with his Detector. Along this route, on the East bank, you walk through the open Roman Museum at Corbridge. This land is managed by English Heritage. I pointed out the obvious, but his argument centred on the common law right of a one metre path along English riverbank that is free to roam. With the Tyne constantly changing bank side through the seasons, this gave him ample space to meander the path of the river without intruding into English Heritage land. He maintained that he constantly had good finds in the Corbridge area, but did not give any details. Now I’m aware that most Detectorists would give this area a wide berth, but I would still like to find out more about this ‘common law’ one metre right of way along a riverbank. It is something I forgot about John, but your article resurrected my idea of research. Any views on this would be appreciated. Regards ~ Paul

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