The Detectorists

Rural Adviser Elliot Hutt explains the complexities surrounding metal detecting on private land.
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Metal detecting is a hobby entertained by many with it becoming more popular every year, with the majority of activity carried out on private land. Farmers and landowners should have an understanding of whether to allow metal detectors on their land and indeed what precautions should be taken.

Rural Adviser Elliot Hutt explains the complexities surrounding metal detecting on private land.

What landowners should do if they find someone on their land?

Metal detectorists should obtain permission from the landowner in order to enter private land. Anyone that is found on land without permission is committing trespass. If a detectorist is seen to be trespassing this is normally a civil matter rather than a criminal matter. This is something that is normally dealt with between the landowner and the individual trespassing.

The landowner would be advised to take note of any vehicle registrations if a particular individual is seen to be continually on private land without permission. Information such as this is incredibly valuable and can be passed onto the police for further action.

Additionally, if an individual is seen to be taking findings from private land without permission, also known as ‘night hawking’, may result in theft and should be reported to the police.

If a member is approached by someone wishing to do detecting?

It is up to the landowner’s discretion whether they allow someone to detect on their land or not. If a landowner does allow someone to detect then it is advisable to have a written ‘finds agreement’ in place before allowing someone to go out detecting. This would normally set out who can detect, where they can detect, how to report any findings and any further conditions that the land owner deems to be suitable such as where the detectorists can drive and park their vehicles.

It is also advised to restrict access and the time in which detectorists are on private land. For example, informing the landowner of when they are detecting and where they going. Including a map within the agreement would be a good idea so that reference can be made by both the landowner and the detectorists. This is also useful if the landowner intends to work on a particular bit of land or they run a shoot. Knowing where people are and at what time is recommended for safety.

Additionally, a tenant may need to speak to their landlord regarding permission for metal detectors as this may be a breach of their tenancy agreement. For example, some Farm Business Tenancies have clauses within the contract excluding the tenant granting consent without the landlord’s prior approval for detectorists. Furthermore, it is illegal for a detectorist to metal detect on a Scheduled Monument or Site of Specific Scientific Interest without the permission of Natural England. This is something a landowner should take into account before they grant permission.

If someone has permission and finds something?

The Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice states that the presumption that the landowner and detectorist will split the reward from the findings 50:50. However, this can be agreed between the parties and written into the ‘finds agreement’ as mentioned above.

Not everything that is discovered is defined as treasure. Treasure includes anything that has archaeological significance such as gold and silver coins. Even if it does not fall under the heading of treasure it is still worth checking that it is not and still notifying the landowner. Detectorists who find potential treasure must report their findings to the coroner within 14 days. The coroner will then determine whether the find is classed as treasure or not. If finds are not reported then this is illegal and the offence carries a maximum of three months in prison and/ or a fine of up to £5,000.

Having a detectorist on private land can be seen as an advantage as it is an extra pair of eyes to spot any illegal activities that may be occurring such as fly tipping or hare coursing. It is also a good opportunity for the landowner to learn and understand more about the history of the land they own. However, as mentioned previously, granting permission needs to be done with caution and make sure that all eventualities are covered and a ‘finds agreement’ is in place. Moreover, making sure the detectorist has the correct insurance. If they are part of a club then it will normally be a part of their membership. But, the landowner may need to contact their own insurers to make sure they are covered just in case something did go wrong.

If you'd like further information or to talk to a member of the South West team about this, please give us a call on 01249 700200

Further information can be found under the ‘Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England & Wales’

Key contact:

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Elliot Hutt Rural Adviser