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Permission for metal detecting on your land

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There have been recent news stories reporting on night time digging for artefacts at Hadrian’s Wall. Historic England are working with the police and National Crime Agency to try to identify the nighthawks.

The vast majority of metal detecting in England is, however, carried out perfectly lawfully with the permission of the landowner. What should you do as a farmer or landowner if you wish to cooperate with a law-abiding metal detecting enthusiast seeking permission to search on your land?

A written agreement is to be recommended. The most important part will of course deal with the division of any sale proceeds or Treasure award (discussed below). There may also be an upfront fee for granting permission.

Other points to agree are the times and days when the metal detectorist may search, access ways, and parking. Metal detecting agreements may require the finder to abide by the National Council for Metal Detecting Code of Conduct, which covers things such as making good holes which have been dug, closing gates, and not damaging crops. The agreement may also require the metal detectorist to hold public liability insurance.

The Code of Conduct highlights the fact that metal detecting is prohibited on Sites of Special Scientific Interest or on land subject to agri-environment schemes: the agreement should make clear any regulations which apply to that particular land. Regard should also be had to rules about historic monuments and archaeological sites.

Where land is tenanted, metal detectorists and tenant farmers alike should be careful. It is usual for tenancy agreements to contain clauses prohibiting metal detecting on the land, and to state that any Treasure belongs to the landowner. Even where the tenancy agreement is silent on metal detecting, which may the case with older agreements, it is considered that objects buried under the land belong to the landowner.

Treasure hunting is governed by the Treasure Act 1996. This defines gold or silver finds older than 300 years as “Treasure”. A strict process must be followed when a person finds Treasure, which involves notifying the local coroner of the treasure within 14 days. Failure to do so is a crime with an unlimited fine and up to 3 months in prison. The Treasure is then offered to museums and if they want to keep the Treasure, a reward is paid.

The Treasure Act is vague on whom to pay the reward to, intentionally so since there can be so many factors at play such as agreements between the finder and the landowner, whether those agreements are written or made on handshake, or where there are multiple finders. Instead, it is left to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to determine a fair way to divide the reward, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.

Trust is placed in the metal detectorist that he or she will honestly report any finds. For this reason, the landowner may prefer to grant permission to a metal detecting club rather than an individual.

Contact Orlando Bridgeman at our Malton office on 01653 600070 for more information.