In the UK, metal detecting and treasure hunting as hobbies are extremely popular and widespread, mostly because these lands are rich in all kinds of historical relics, treasures, and hoards, due to the long and eventful history of the British isles. Due to the popularity of this hobby, and the risk of losing important historical and cultural heritage, the UK government has developed sets of very clear and comprehensive rules that are constantly updated. So, local treasure hunters are given options and opportunities for their hobby, but they also have to follow the laws. Beginner metal seekers will also benefit from learning some basics; they can find everything they need to start the hobby
One of the main curious peculiarities of local metal detecting in the UK is that there is a National Council for Metal Detecting, that has a written Constitution for metal seekers and members of the Council. The NCMD is a member of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, and works closely with all governmental structures to ensure that the hobby has ways of developing, and at the same time, the seekers obey the laws.
The NCMD was formed in 1981, and is a representative body of elected volunteers that collaborate with the responsible governmental agencies, provide memberships and licenses, develop rules of conduct, etc. All individual seekers or groups should obtain memberships or permits by the NCMD in order to pursue their hobby. The only aspect not covered by NCMD is archaeological interests.
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Disclaimer: The laws described in this section were in place at the time of writing the review. Unfortunately, the laws can be amended or changed quickly, and Detect History may fail to track the change fast enough to update the overview of the law. Therefore, it is important to double-check national laws and local rules in jurisdictions at all times. The best way to double-check is to contact the NCMD, a local metal detecting U.K club, or management of the location where the search session is planned, and ask about the laws in place.
The laws adopted by the UK government have been shaped into three sets of rules for all metal seekers. The rules should be followed at all times, and they include “Before you go metal detecting”, “While metal detecting”, and “After metal detecting” sets.
Before You Go Metal Detecting:
While Metal Detecting:
After Metal Detecting:
The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was developed as a universal scheme for all metal seekers to follow when reporting any archaeological finds (not only metals). PAS works with hundreds of parties, including Finds Liaison Officers, National Finds Advisers, volunteers, etc. Following the PAS does not mean that the finder should not follow the Treasure Act.
The Treasure Act of 1996 was created by the Parliament with the purpose of defining what objects can be classified with treasure, how these objects are to be reported, and what are the exact procedures. The Act is applied in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The main aspects discussed are what can be called treasure, who is the owner, how to report, and what reward can be expected by the finder.
According to the Treasure Act of 1996, treasures are:
What is not treasure:
The ownership rights are as follows:
There are some additional rules that define the ownership depending on where exactly the treasure was found, and in which circumstances it was left after it was found. The general rule is that objects classified as treasure belong either to the archaeological group researching the site, or to the Crown. If the object was revealed by a metal detectorist, they have the right to sell it to a museum and get the reward from the government in full; if the detectorist found the treasure on private property with the landowner’s\tenant’s permission, the reward is shared.
The order of notifying the coroner is as follows:
The rewards are granted as follows:
According to the Treasure Act practices, when reporting a find, the metal detectorist will have to complete a special declaration form, provide GPS coordinates, and submit photos of the find. Moreover, it is forbidden to move or remove the find if the finder believes it can be a treasure. The finder should secure and cover the find safely, and make sure the case is processed by the Finds Liaison Officers. The process may take several weeks or months. Regardless of whether the find was removed, or secured, the treasure potentially belongs to the Crown, so the finder should take good care of it.
If the find is not a treasure, regulations on how to report, store, and take care of the finds at home can be found on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.
The Treasure Act of 1996 does nor work for metal detecting Scotland and the Isle of Man, and PAS is not applied to these areas, either. One of the main differences is that, in England, all finds reported via PAS are voluntary, but in metal detecting Scotland law, reporting is obligatory. In Scotland, Treasure Trove should be informed about any finds.
For legal metal detecting in Scotland, the seekers should become members of the NCMD. When metal detecting on private property, metal detecting permission should be acquired. For detecting in public parks, permission should be acquired from local authorities.
Any scheduled sites are prohibited for detecting without permission from Historic Environment Scotland, and illegalt detecting is a criminal offense. Before detecting on any location, its status must be double-checked.
If anything potentially valuable is found, the finder has to report to Treasure Trove by filling a form, and sending an email with images, to email@example.com.
To report a find, the finders must:
Fossils, animal bones, or mineral deposits must not be reported. Human remains should be reported to the Police. Wrecks should be reported to the Receiver of Wreck (firstname.lastname@example.org).
In 1995, the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects Order set restrictions on using metal detecting devices in Northern Ireland. The Order has the right to give “license to excavate” to archaeologists, historians, and experienced seekers who are engaged into legitimate archaeological research, or rescue excavations. Detecting and digging without a permit, or even possessing a hobby metal detector without this license is an offence.
It is prohibited to remove any archaeological objects found with a metal detector, without a written consent from relevant authority. Other restrictions are as follows:
In metal detecting Northern Ireland, the rules and approach are somewhat stricter than in England, but the point is that the authorities are seeking ways to support the interests of the public as a whole, and to prevent damage to ancient sites and historical heritage that belongs to all citizens, not only metal seekers. Strict rules are also created to prevent looting for personal gain, and to encourage collaboration between scientists and hobby seekers.
If you are aware of the laws and regulations applied in your jurisdiction, and wondering where actually you can go for metal detecting, this is the list of sites that usually work for most beginners:
Talking specifically about outstanding locations in the UK, you can try detecting in the following areas:
Most public places like parks or roadsides are allowed for hobby metal detecting, but in practice, this only works if the treasure hunter has license and\or NCMD membership, and in any case, permit is required. The UK government reminds all seekers that all land, even public places like open-spaces, beaches, and foreshores, have its owners and occupiers\tenants. As a result, in reality, every detectorist requires both the landowner’s and tenant’s agreement.
According to the UK law, the detectorist wishing to search on private property must have membership or license, must have insurance, and must seek permission of the landowner\tenant. The detectorist should search agreement, preferably in written form, about rules applied to their detecting activity, and should discuss possible compensation in case anything valuable is found on private property. The detectorist or group of seekers should follow code of conduct at all times, and stick to any specific rules, regulations, or recommendations about area boundaries, ploughing plans, etc., articulated by the landowner.
It is allowed to metal detect in the woods which are held as public land, unless there is a private landowner. Sometimes, the forestry department will limit access to the forest, or activity in the forest, for metal seekers due to environmental or other reasons, such as mating season or bird nesting season. In most national parks, however, hobby detecting is prohibited, as only scheduled archaeological excavations are possible on these lands.
At the time of writing, hobby beach metal detecting UK does not have any specific regulations in addition to those numerous laws and rules stated above. All beach, shallow water, and underwater detecting seem to be subject to the same regulations. So, if you are interested specifically in metal detecting on beaches, check out the list of the best locations in the UK:
UK Code of Ethics for metal seekers resembles the one that works in most other countries, and goes as follows:
Talking about UK and European metal detecting as such, there are many pretty much standard items you can expect to find, including but not limited to:
Moreover, if you have deep seeking, powerful metal detector, you can also find metal ores and mineral deposits, including:
Despite the fact that the British Isles are rich in minerals and gems, the most desired finds these lands are rich in are historical relics, because Britain has seen lots of historical events.
Talking about ancient finds, treasure hunters can look for the relics by local cultures like Celts, Picts, and Scots, and these relics can be many. Other historical relics are left by the cultures of conquerors – Saxon tribes, Vikings, and even soldiers of the Roman Empire. Already in the IV-V centuries Britain belonged to the Roman Empire, and many rich immigrants granted huge lands on the British Isles brought their riches with them.
In the IX-X centuries, Britain became the target of the neighboring Viking peoples, some of them trying to conquer the lands, while others tried to establish trading routes and schemes, all of them bringing their riches with them, and also sharing their skills with the local peoples. Even today, it is totally possible to find a relic from the Roman Empire times or Viking raids times on the British shores.
Strictly speaking, the Middle Ages in Britain started in the V century and lasted until the XV century. There are two main outstanding aspects during this period that created lots of treasures, and eventually these treasures are now desired by the seekers. These aspects are development of the knighthood phenomenon, and development of the Christian church. While aristocracy and knights accumulated huge treasures and inherited them, the monasteries and abbeys, in their turn, also created and accumulated treasures. These treasures were better documented and managed than those of the Roman Empire or Viking eras, this is why it is harder to find one unattended today. However, this is still possible, and almost every year British seekers spot another hoard that dates back to the Medieval times.
The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century and WWII in the 20th century created less treasures on the British lands, but they definitely left lots of other relics. Those passionate about history, or about these two specific periods in history, can also hunt down some significant and valuable items. These items are unlikely to be marked as treasures unless they are remarkably valuable, but Industrial Revolution or WWII period items can have significant cultural importance.
According to the Treasure Act of 1996, all objects should be reported for the sake of classification, and objects that seemingly classify as treasure should be reported within 14 days. If the object is claimed as a treasure, it will be transferred to a museum, and if the finder or owner are eligible for a reward, the reward will be granted.
If the object cannot be classified as treasure, but seemingly classify as archaeologically interesting or important, it should be reported according to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Scheme has several variations for the sake of finders’ and authorities’ convenience. The aims of PAS are to advance knowledge of history and archaeology, to raise awareness and promote education among the public on the importance of historical heritage, to enhance collaboration between metal seekers and archaeologists, etc.
The metal detecting UK law states that all valuable or historically important objects are the property of the Crown and therefore they cannot be attempted to be sold to a private collector, or kept for one’s own collection. They should be transferred to a museum, with or without a reward to the finder/landowner. Only if no museum is interested in accepting the find, the finder or landowner are allowed to keep the find.
If you are allowed to keep the find, you are free to use it as you wish – leaving in your own collection, selling it, etc. But please keep in mind that you will require additional documents and Crown estate metal detecting permit if you try to transport archaeological finds abroad, even if they are of no interest to local museums.
This overview gives quite a broad set of recommendations and explanations on local laws in the UK, however, even the most experienced seekers might need some help, recommendation, or advice. Beginner seekers, moreover, may require recommendations and tips even in the most basic aspects. For beginners, we recommend checking out our book available online and as a paperback. The book explains the basics of metal detecting, throws light on some important nuances, and helps to avoid typical newbie mistakes. Detect History blog also has a lot of useful posts and guidelines. Moreover, both beginner and seasoned treasure hunters can seek help on UK metal detecting forum, in social network groups, and in local metal detecting UK clubs.
There are many international metal detecting forums gathering like-minded folks from all over the world. The top metal detecting forums UK include Treasure Net, Find’s Treasure, Detector Prospector, and others. You can check out the list of the best international forums in this blog post. As for local British metal detecting forums,they are MDF Metal Detecting Group, UK Detector Net, and Metal Detecting UK Forum. You can also look for local groups and public accounts on metal detecting, prospecting, and treasure hunting, in social networks you use. However, the best option is to join a local metal detecting club.
The advantages of joining a UK metal detecting club are obvious: clubs are usually tightly knit communities of like-minded people that share knowledge and experience, make search sessions or travel to distant locations together, make organized license or metal detecting permit UK acquisitions for their members, can lend or rent out their equipment to another member, etc. Beginner seekers would benefit hugely from joining a club.
Local clubs in the UK include (at the time of writing):
Metal detecting clubs Scotland:
Metal detecting Wales:
There are several metal detecting rallies held in the UK on a regular basis. The biggest and the most famous one is Detectival. Detectival was created in 2016, and since then, this event brings together manufacturers, traders, and passionate seekers from many countries, not only the UK. The rally includes release presentations, competitions, and even activities for charity.
Other big rallies include Detectorcon, Medway History Finders Metal Detecting Club Rally, The Rodney Cook Memorial Rally, and Kimbo’s Detecting Society Week Long Marathon Rally. The list is not full, though, so please research more about events in your area. Moreover, even total newbies can give it a try with a metal detector – or even gold panning! – by joining specialized metal detecting tours in their area. Some of the most well-known tours are Colchester Treasure Hunting and Metal Detecting Holidays, and Metal Detecting Tours England.
Some farmers indeed do allow metal detecting on a regular basis. At the time of writing, Pete’s Airgun Farm in Essex is one of the locations where metal seekers are welcomed. Check out farms in your area, and you are likely to find at least one that will be available for treasure hunting.
In public areas with metal detecting licence and NCMD membership, and on private property with license, membership, insurance, and landowner’s / tenant’s permission.
There are lots of metal detecting land available – public parks, fields, woods, roadsides, beaches, river banks, etc.
To start metal detecting, you will need to know what locations are available to you, what finds you want or expect, and what metal detector exactly you need. To start metal detecting hobby successfully, check out Detect History guidelines, blog, or “Time to Detect” book.
You’d better not until you get the item evaluated by the expert. Some ancient items can be permanently damaged by the attempt to clean them, and lose their value; and considering that all treasures belong to the Crown, you don’t want to destroy a valuable item you found. So, no cleaning until the expert tells you the significance and value; only if no museum wants your find, you can clean it and keep it.
There are few places where you can go metal detecting without permission in the UK, mostly because every detectorist needs a license and a membership in the NCMD. You can detect in your backyard, of course, but again, if you find something valuable, you have to report, which again leads to the necessity of a license.
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