I have received permission to publish here a letter to Sir Robert Russell MP which was copied to me and am delighted to renew contact with its author, known to me from my Fortress House days of happy memory. Here he writes as a representative of the UK Institute of Conservators. Though I'd not put the emphasis on the same points myself, I am glad to show that not everybody involved in preserving the past in England is just letting these comments pass by without reaction. Here is the letter - some more personal reflections edited:
Dear Sir Robert,
This email comes from reading on the Web comments which do you no service. You appear to a considerable section of the community, to be silly, ill informed and not all all helpful to those who work unceasingly to preserve what remains of our heritage which, in this country, is quite considerable.
1. You praise metal dectorists for detecting artefacts, usually metal but not in general made of iron (important in archaeology) as if they are the main source of new information. In fact these enthusiastic 'diggers' can cause considerable damage to archaeological sites. Yes, there have been excellent and highly interesting finds which have been recorded and publicised by the Portable Antiquities Scheme based in the British Museum but it is a minute part of what British Archaeology is about. This country is one of the leading countries in the world in the application of archaeological techniques and I believe there were about 7,000 professional not well paid but full time archaeologists before the recession, many with degrees but with a passion for recording our past before destruction. Possibly 1,000 may have lost their jobs since building work has paused. A coin found by a metal detector may have helped to date a structure as archaeologists have to work on site remains, complicated work requiring many skills and knowledge and often working to a deadline in bad weather. They are the real heroes not the treasure finders as some are made to look in publicity pieces. [...]
2. I regard, and I believe many units do so, that employing a metal detectorist on site excavations can be a useful tool. Many however, keep their found artefacts in their wanderings and one wonders what happens in the long run to the artefacts. Will they ever get into museums?
3. Our heritage is subject to many vicissitudes ranging from weather, vegetation, man, children, climate changes, building development of all sizes, inadequate funding and inept handling. We are trying to preserve what is left for hundreds/thousands of years but do Government or local authorities really care? We have world class professionals and also flourishing old established County Archeological Societies. English Heritage suffered a recent 32% cut in its funding and this after a planned reduction in staff numbers. Do MP's care?
4. [...] I suggest you contact and join the organisation on your doorstep - The All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group (APPAG) Chairman, Lord Renfrew an emminent Archaeologist.