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Metal detecting

The New Forest National Park Authority recognises the important contribution that archaeological objects of all types, including metal-detected material, can make to increasing our understanding of the past. However, it also recognises that potentially serious negative impacts can result from the unstructured collection and recording of historic material.

Archaeological objects are a powerful link to our past, and metal detecting can play a valuable role in discovering these stories of the local area. When finds are recorded and shared with other people, they help tell these stories. But when objects are not recorded this potential is lost. Finds are most important within their context – their relationship to structures, deposits and the full range of finds – all contributing to the wider understanding of a place, an event, a site or landscape.

When finds are taken out of context, a piece of the jigsaw is lost, making it harder to tell the stories of our places and care for the nation’s heritage.

Archaeologists, historians and those tasked to look after our nation’s rich heritage prefer that objects from our past are not removed through metal detecting. When they are, this must be done in accordance with the law and best practice. We rely on the goodwill of the metal-detecting community to fully record and report their finds with the archaeological authorities. Remember, when you are out metal detecting you are an ambassador for your hobby!

For the current government advice on searching for archaeological finds (with a metal-detector, field-walking or mudlarking) in England during COVID-19 please see: Guidance on searching for archaeological finds in England during COVID-19 – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

 

Restrictions and permissions

You must obtain permission from the landowner before using a metal detector. This includes land to which the public have rights of access such as beaches, footpaths, or council-owned land.

Under UK law there is no such thing as “finders keepers”. You always need the landowner’s permission to detect on an area of land and to keep anything you find on their land.

Land ownership/management in the New Forest National Park (NFNP) is complex. The New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA) does not own any land and is unable to grant permission for the use of metal detectors in the New Forest National Park. Detecting in many areas within the Park is restricted by their landowners.

The following restrictions apply specifically to the New Forest:

  • The New Forest Crown lands (which are the majority of the open woods and heathlands of the Forest) are managed by Forestry England (FE). As part of the Forestry Commission Byelaws, the operation of metal detectors and the disturbance and/or removal of archaeological remains is not permitted on New Forest Crown land without express permission. Email permissions@forestryengland.uk for more information.
  • Metal detecting is strictly prohibited on protected heritage sites such as Scheduled Monuments. Receiving permission for detecting on Scheduled Monuments from Historic England is highly unlikely unless it is part of a permitted archaeological investigation.
  • Metal detecting is not allowed on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) without permission. Most of the New Forest National Park has this designation (see The New Forest SSSI), and most of the Crown Estate-owned foreshore within the National Park is also designated under separate SSSIs. To seek permission consult Natural England by calling 0300 060 3900 or emailing enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk.
  • Metal detecting is not allowed on National Trust land without permission. Please visit their website for more information.
  • Metal detecting is not allowed on Hampshire County Council land without permission. Please visit their website for more information.
  • Metal detecting is not permitted on New Forest District Council land. Please visit their website, call Customer Services 0230 285000 or email spaces@NFDC.gov.uk for more information.
  • Metal detecting is not permitted on Wiltshire Council land. Please visit their website for more information.

If you are uncertain whether the area of interest falls into any of these categories, relevant designations can be checked using online free mapping called MAGIC GIS.

Guidance for landowners, occupiers and tenant farmers

As highlighted above there may be additional protections and/or designations on the land you own, occupy or rent. These (e.g. SSSI, Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme) may prevent you granting permission for metal detecting on land you own or manage.

For more information visit the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s website : Metal-detecting, Field-walking and Searching for Archaeological Objects: guidance for landowners, occupiers and tenant farmers in England and Wales.

 

Best practices if you obtain permission to metal detect

If you do obtain permission to metal detect in the New Forest National Park, please familiarise yourself with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017) and  the Code of Conduct set out by the National Council for Metal Detecting.

Please adhere to the following general guidelines:

  • Keep with you copies of all permissions you have obtained, so you can prove you have permission.
  • Detect on ploughed land, as objects have already been removed from their archaeological context. Removing objects from below the plough soil or from non-ploughed land can damage the archaeology.
  • Record the grid reference of each find. Use a handheld GPS device to record to 8 digit grid reference, or a ‘What3Words’ location.
  • Report any potential Treasure finds to your Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) within 14 days of finding. See further advice below.
  • Record your finds with your FLO so the information about your finds can be shared with other people.
  • If you find an in-situ find, such as a pottery jar, or a group of objects buried together please stop and seek advice from the contact the Portable Antiquities Scheme or the County Archaeologist.
  • If you discover live ammunition or a lethal object such as an unexploded bomb or mine, do not disturb it. Mark the site carefully and report the find to the local police and landowner.
  • Do not leave a mess or an unsafe surface for those who may follow. Use a suitable digging implement to cut a neat flap, extract the object, and reinstate the soil plug carefully.
  • Respect and follow the Countryside Code and the New Forest Code.
  • Help keep the New Forest clean, take home your rubbish. If you find anything hazardous please notify the police and/or landowner as appropriate.

 

Reporting your discoveries

An important law is the 1996 Treasure Act. As well as items of precious metal over 300 years old (such as gold or silver), Treasure includes groups of coins or prehistoric metal. You must report these to the local Coroner within 14 days of finding them.

Breaking the law by illegal detecting or failing to report Treasure may lead to prosecution.  Please be aware of the law and the Codes of Practice and seek advice if unsure.

To help identify and catalogue your finds, and enable the Treasure Process, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) provides a network of Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) to record your finds on the national database: www.finds.org.uk.

Your FLO can also help you navigate the laws surrounding detecting and is your first point of contact for reporting Treasure finds to the coroner.

Contact your Hampshire FLOs at: flo@hampshireculturaltrust.org.uk

Contact your Wiltshire FLOs at: PAS@salisburymuseum.org.uk

For more information about responsible metal detecting visit:

Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (2017)

 

Have you witnessed or seen evidence of a Heritage Crime?

If you are out and about in the New Forest National Park and witness what you suspect is illegal metal detecting in progress or come across evidence of a heritage crime, please report the crime to the police and the landowner immediately.

Contacting the police

Call 101 to report crime and other concerns that do not require an emergency response, such as:

  • When property has been stolen or damaged and the suspect is no longer at the scene
  • If you suspect unlawful metal detecting is happening in your neighbourhood
  • To give the police information about crime or anti-social behaviour in your area

101 is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contacting crimestoppers

To remain anonymous while passing on information about criminal activity, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or by visiting their website.

You will never have to give a formal statement, talk to police or be a witness in court, and you could receive a reward of up to £1,000 if the information you provide leads to the arrest and charge of at least one person.

Crimestoppers line is also open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Contacting the landowner

Please also contact the relevant landowner immediately. It can be tricky to know whose land you are on, so please feel free to email us at archaeology@newforestnpa.gov.uk if you are unsure. Contact details for some landowners in the New Forest are listed below.

Forestry England

Tel: 0300 067 4601

Email: southern.permissions@forestryengland.uk

National Trust

Tel: 0142 565 0035

Email: info.newforest@nationaltrust.org.uk

New Forest District Council

Tel: 02380 285000

Email: open.spaces@NFDC.gov.uk

 

Working in partnership to care for this special place.

 



Paul
Walton
Head of Environment and Rural Economy

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