Metal Detecting FAQs
- Can I metal detect in the South Downs National Park?
The South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) only owns Seven Sisters Country Park, and has a no metal detecting policy at the site. This is because the site contains a number of Scheduled Monuments, and is also covered by Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status as well as legal agreements relating to Countryside Stewardship, all of which prohibit or restrict metal detecting.
As the SNPDA only owns one area of the National Park (Seven Sisters Country Park), SDNPA staff and volunteers cannot give permission to anyone who wishes to metal detect at any sites within the National Park.
Before metal detecting, you must obtain permission from the landowner. This includes land that has rights of public access, such as footpaths, land owned by local councils, and areas of beach. Metal detecting in areas of the South Downs National Park may also be prohibited or restricted for the same reasons that the SDNPA cannot authorise detecting at Seven Sisters Country Park – i.e. due to the land being covered by legal protections such as Scheduled Monument or SSSI status, or where agreements are in place relating to land management, such as certain tiers of Countryside Stewardship.
- I want to do the right thing – what’s my checklist for responsible metal detecting?
The following steps will ensure you detect responsibly:
- Check out the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017) and the Code of Conduct produced by the National Council for Metal Detecting. It is also worth familiarising yourself with The Countryside Code.
- Ensure you obtain landowner permission in writing. This is useful if you need to prove you have permission to metal detect. Remember, even where you have previously had landowner permission to metal detect, you should check again with a landowner that they are happy for you to detect on their land again. Proof of written permission to metal detect can also help if you are ever challenged about detecting at a site.
- Request a finds agreement in writing from the landowner. This will outline where you have permission to detect and what will happen to any artefacts found. Landowners can obtain templates for finds agreements from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) or National Farmers Union (NFU). It is best not to begin to metal detect until you have a finds agreement in place.
- Although not a legal requirement, consider whether you might want to have liability insurance in place, to cover both your safety and the safety of others.
- Only metal detect on ploughed land.
- Record the grid reference of any artefact you find. You can use a handheld GPS to do this (ideally obtaining an 8-digit grid reference) or you can use a geocode system like the What 3 Words
- Report any potential Treasure finds to a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) within 14 days of their discovery. You can find out more about the Treasure process, and how to report Treasure on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website. A FLO will also be interested in recording non-Treasure finds, as this will help to grow our understanding of the past and contribute to our knowledge of British archaeology.
- Check the websites maintained by the Crown Estate and those of Local Authorities to check whether you are allowed to detect on coastal foreshore or inter-tidal mudflats. A number of Local Authorities have introduced bylaws that prohibit metal detecting on their land. If you have permission to metal detect along the coast, you will also need to report finds to HM Receiver of Wreck under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
If you discover objects that may be classified as ‘wreck’ you will need to report finds to HM Receiver of Wreck under the terms of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
For more information see the UK Government’s wreck and salvage law.
- If you have permission to metal detect along the coast, you will also need to report finds to HM Receiver of Wreck under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995.
- If you discover any artefact or artefacts that are ‘in situ’ (i.e. artefacts that have been found in their original place of deposit) or a group of artefacts that have been buried together, please stop and contact your FLO or the County or District (the Local Authority) Archaeologist.
- If you discover any remains that might be human, call the Police (999) immediately and also notify the landowner. Do not disturb any remains that you believe may be human.
- If you discover live ammunition or a lethal object such as an unexploded bomb or mine, do not disturb it. Mark the area carefully, withdraw to a safe distance and report the discovery to the local police using the emergency number 999 and inform the landowner immediately.
- Always leave a site as you found it – do not leave any rubbish, ensure gates are closed, and do not leave unsafe surfaces: Use a suitable digging implement to cut a neat flap of turf, extract the object carefully and reinstate the soil and the turf plug carefully.
- If land is protected as a scheduled monument the landowner cannot provide permission to detect on the site, even though they own the land. It is a criminal offence to undertake unauthorised works; damage; or, use a metal detector (defined as any device designed or adapted for detecting or locating any metal or mineral in the ground)¹ on the site of a Scheduled Monument; or to remove objects of archaeological or historic interest from the site of a Scheduled Monument that have been discovered though the use of such equipment. The only exception is where prior consent has been obtained from Historic England in the form of a licence issued within the terms of Section 42, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979. For more information, see Historic England’s Information for Applicants (Section 42 Licenses).
- How do I ensure I stay safe when metal detecting?
- If you are detecting alone, make sure someone knows where you are in the event you are injured or have an accident in an area that may not have clear mobile signal.
- There is always a risk of discovering live ammunition or unexploded bombs when metal detecting. Mark the site and immediately call the local police and the landowner. Do not remove or attempt to remove dangerous materials.
- What about the law? What do I need to be aware of?
The British landscape is archaeologically rich, and as such, heritage protections are in place to both preserve surviving historic assets and charge landowners and the public with a duty of care towards our shared heritage.
The following legislation is designed to ensure the protection of heritage and landscape assets, ensure there are protocols in place where heritage assets such as artefacts or sites are discovered, ensuring areas of special historic and natural importance are protected from certain activities, and additionally protecting the public from risk:
- Treasure Act 1996
- Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979
- Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981
- Protection of Military Remains Act 1986
- Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003
- Merchant Shipping Act 1995
- Protection of Wrecks Act 1973
There is also legislation that dictates why metal detecting must be undertaken with landowner permission, mainly relating to trespass and criminal activities such as theft and vandalism.
It is not illegal to metal detect if you have landowner permission – it is however essential that you do so responsibly.
However, it is illegal to metal detect on land covered by legal protections, such as Scheduled Monuments and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and doing so is a criminal offence. A landowner cannot provide permission to detect on sites covered by legal protections of this kind. See the information above for “I want to do the right thing – What’s my checklist for responsible metal detecting?”
- How can I find out more about the objects I have discovered?
You can report all finds to a Finds Liaison Officer (sometimes abbreviated as FLO). Finds Liaison Officers work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Portable Antiquities Scheme is run by the British Museum and Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales) to encourage the recording of archaeological objects found by members of the public in England and Wales. Every year many thousands of archaeological objects are discovered, many of these by metal detector users, but also by people making chance discoveries while out walking, gardening or going about their daily activities. Finds recorded with the Scheme help advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme database is an important research record for British archaeology, and in reporting your artefacts you are actively adding to that body of knowledge. You can find out more about how reporting your discoveries advances our understanding of the past on the Portable Antiquities Scheme website.
Finds Liaison Officers often run finds reporting sessions at local museums, archives and libraries, and you can contact a Finds Liaison Officer to schedule an appointment to bring finds in for identification. You will be asked to leave your finds with the Finds Liaison Officer while they undertake research and recording.
Remember, with the exception of Treasure (which must be declared under law), all artefacts you discover belong to the landowner unless they have given you permission to keep them.
- What is ‘treasure’?
All archaeology and every discovery is important – every artefact has the potential to tell us a story about the past, change our perception and understanding, and adds to our knowledge. Every discovery is important.
Treasure is defined as those objects that are made from a minimum percentage of precious metal, but it also covers objects found together, such as hoards, and includes non-Treasure objects found with objects that are defined as Treasure.
You can find more information on Treasure – how it is defined by law and what you should do if you find something that you think may qualify under the Treasure Act – on the Portable Antiquities Scheme Website.
- What do I do if I find something that might be ‘treasure’?
The Portable Antiquities Scheme website provides the best advice and guidance:
“You must report all finds of Treasure to a coroner for the district in which they are found either within 14 days after the day on which you made the discovery or within 14 days after the day on which you realised the find might be treasure. Your local Finds Liaison Officer can assist you in determining whether a find constitutes potential Treasure and can report the find to the coroner on your behalf.”
A Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) can not only provide an initial identification of the artefact but can also report the artefact to the Coroner on your behalf as part of the Treasure process.
The law applies to everyone. Archaeologists are also required by law to report items of potential treasure to the Coroner.
- Where can I find out more about responsible metal detecting?
The Portable Antiquaries Scheme website has a very useful FAQs page, with further answers to questions you may not have found here.
- What if I witness metal detecting and it may be a heritage crime?
If you witness what you believe may be unlawful metal detecting (i.e. metal detecting within the area of a Scheduled Monument, within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), in an area where metal detecting is not authorised, or where you believe metal detecting is taking place without landowner permission), please report this direct to the local police and the landowner immediately. This can include instances where metal detecting is in progress, or where you come across what you believe to be evidence of unlawful detecting at a site.
How do I report the crime to the police?
If the crime is taking place and the suspect (the person committing the crime) is still present, call the Police using the number 101 (101 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week)
If you can, provide the operator with your exact location using the What 3 Words App.
How can I contact a landowner?
If you do not have a contact for the landowner, please contact email@example.com to report the incident – providing clear details on the location. The South Downs National Park Authority may be able to report the incident directly to the landowner, or will log the incident via a crime reporting app called Disc.
Signs of potential illicit detecting will be areas where turf has been cut, removed and replaced (or not replaced), holes and spade damage to an area not likely to be associated with legitimate land management activities, or activities taking place at night.
For more information how to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour in relation to cultural heritage, including archaeology and the historic environment, please visit the heritage crime section on the Historic England website.
- What is a Scheduled Monument?
Scheduled Monuments are nationally important archaeological sites, protected by legislation and selected based on key principles covering characteristics including rarity, survival, condition and potential. Scheduled Monuments cover every period of human history and a variety of forms; from visible buildings or field monuments such as barrows and earthworks to invisible buried remains. The variety of monuments makes them both a unique and fragile reflection of our human history.
Scheduled Monuments can be held in either public or private ownership, and may or may not be publicly accessible. Scheduling does not give members of the general public any rights of access.
The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act (1979) from which Scheduling derives, seeks to provide protections for nationally important survivals from the past, with deliberate or reckless damage to these monuments considered a criminal offence, and any works that may impact on them requiring consent from the Secretary of State. The aim of the legislation is to ensure that nationally important monuments are passed on to the next generation in much the same condition as they were received, creating a system of custodianship.
To identify if an area of land is designated as a scheduled monument please check with the Historic England National Heritage List for England (NHLE).
It is illegal to metal detect (or to take equipment for the purposes of metal detecting) on or into a Scheduled Monument.
If land is protected as a scheduled monument the landowner cannot provide permission to detect on the site, even though they own the land.
It is a criminal offence to undertake unauthorised works; damage; or, use a metal detector (defined as any device designed or adapted for detecting or locating any metal or mineral in the ground, including electronic coil, geophysical or magnets) on the site of a Scheduled Monument; or to remove objects of archaeological or historic interest from the site of a Scheduled Monument that have been discovered though the use of such equipment. The only exception is where prior consent has been obtained from Historic England in the form of a licence issued within the terms of Section 42, Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979.
For more information, see Historic England’s Information for Applicants (Section 42 Licenses).
- What is magnet fishing?
Magnet fishing involves the use of powerful magnets (usually neodymium magnets) to attract metal objects from within water courses. People who magnet fish can be motivated by ecological concerns (clearing waterways) or an interest in discovering historic artefacts.
Unlike metal detecting, no official code has yet developed for magnet fishing. However, the principles are similar as for metal detecting, regarding the requirement for landowner permission, and the legal obligation to report discoveries that fall under the Treasure Act. You should also note that in England and Wales the Canal and River Trust prohibits magnet fishing. Please be aware that some rivers are privately owned, so always check and secure owner permission before you magnet fish – exactly as you would for responsible metal detecting.
Many landowners do not approve magnet fishing because of the increased risks involved – particularly risks of drowning or injury. However, the following principles would apply:
- Landowner permission: As with metal detecting, you need to secure landowner permission before you carry out any magnet fishing, and you should also secure a finds agreement from the landowner. Ensure you have permission to magnet fish in writing from the landowner, and have a finds agreement in writing – even ‘rubbish’ may have a cash value as scrap.
- Health and Safety: For your own health and safety, make sure someone knows where you are, or better still, do not magnet fish alone. Wear a floatation device and be aware of the risks of magnet fishing – powerful magnets and magnet lines can risk dragging you under water, and likewise, metal objects attracted to a powerful magnet can include sharp or dangerous materials. Landowners should also be made aware of the risks they face in granting permission to magnet fish on their land.
- Reporting dangerous discoveries: There is always a risk you may find a weapon or dangerous object such as munitions (guns, grenades, mortars etc.) Contact the police, HM Coastguard (if applicable) and notify the landowner.
- Legal protections (land): If you dig into a riverbank, or any land edging bodies of water, you are still risking damage to land covered by legal protections, such as Scheduled Monuments and SSSIs.
- Legal protections (species and habitats): Magnet fishing also requires that you understand the legal protections that ensure coastal, marine, species and habitats are protected.
- Are there other ways to get more involved in archaeology?
There are a number of archaeology and historical societies in the area who welcome new members, and who undertake monitoring, recording, survey and excavation activities, often in partnership with universities and national or regional heritage bodies. They actively care for heritage and enhance our knowledge of the archaeology and history of our landscape, and also provide opportunities to get outdoors and meet new people. You will be able to find archaeological and historical societies in your area, by searching online.
If the river, canal or other form of watercourse sits within land designated as a Scheduled Monument, it is covered by the same legal protections as the land, making it a criminal offence to undertake unauthorised works; damage; or, use a metal detector (defined as any device designed or adapted for detecting or locating any metal or mineral in the ground, including electronic coil, geophysical or magnets). See information above for “I want to do the right thing – What’s my checklist for responsible metal detecting?” and “What is a Scheduled Monument?”
- Who are my key contacts?
It is useful to be aware of your key contacts before you start. For the South Downs National Park, your key contacts are as follows:
To report Treasure finds, to log finds on the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) database and to receive support with identification of finds, please contact a Finds Liaison Officer (FLO):
- Jenny Durrant, Finds Liaison Officer (Hampshire ) – firstname.lastname@example.org or 07710 093831
- Simon Maslin, Finds Liaison Officer (Surrey & Hampshire) – email@example.com or 07968 832740
- Jane Clark, Finds Liaison Officer (Sussex) – firstname.lastname@example.org or 01273 405731
Finds Liaison Officers should always be your principle contact for reporting, recording and identifying metal detected artefacts.
If you discover any artefact or artefacts that are ‘in situ’ (i.e. artefacts that have been found in their original place of deposit) or a group of artefacts that have been buried together, please stop and contact your Finds Liaison Officer (FLO, see contact list above) and the County or District (the Local Authority) Archaeologist:
- David Hopkins, County Archaeologist (Hampshire) – email@example.com or 0370 779 8025
- Chloe Hunnisett , County Archaeologist (West Sussex) – Hunnisett@westsussex.gov.uk or 0330 222 4538
- Neil Griffin, County Archaeologist (East Sussex) – Griffin@eastsussex.gov.uk or 07500 123634
- James Kenny, District Archaeology Officer (Chichester District) – Jkenny@chichester.gov.uk or 01243 534800
- Tracy Matthews, Archaeologist (Winchester and District) – TMatthews@WINCHESTER.GOV.UK or 01962 848380