Thursday, 12 December 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Illegal Artefact Hunting Damages Little Asby Common

The Little Asby Common SSSI is much of the area around Little Asby
on the left side of the picture, Crosby Garrett village is on the right edge.
Reported approximate helmet findspot indicated by purple placemark.

I expect hobbyists in denial will be blaming this on "rabbits" and "fishermen" (like John Howland on the John Winter blog here and his fellow detectorist and preservationist-attacker Steve Taylor here) or aliens. Little Asby Common is an upland limestone pavement exposure and ancEden common damaged in 'treasure hunt'..', Thursday 12th December 2013) is reporting that in the Lake District, Little Asby Common has been damaged beyond repair by people illegally plundering the land with metal detectors.
ient grassland barely a kilometre west of the findspot of the two-million pound Crosby Garrett helmet find (just across the steep-sided valley). It's no use trying to keep the findspot secret to prevent copycat metal detectorists searching the site, if they cannot get on it, they'll go for the immediately adjacent areas hoping there will be collectable-find-generating historic activity there too. Thus it is that now the Westmorland Gazette (Anna Clark, '
Little Asby Common, near Orton, is rich in archaeological heritage but this is being ‘permanently damaged’, according to charity, Friends of the Lake District. “This is very sad and worrying,” said Jan Darrall, policy officer at the organisation. “It has caused permanent irrevocable damage to our cultural heritage which others cannot now enjoy. [...] Parts of the site date back to prehistoric times, while there are also medieval stone walls visible above the ground which have been disturbed by people digging up the land. [...] Friends of the Lake District say police are keen to catch those damaging the land at Little Asby. “We are asking the public to report any suspicious sightings to the police and call on metal detectors to act responsibly and according to the Code of Practice for responsible metal detecting,” added Dr Darrall.
Of course the newspaper lady follows the pattern that has now become de rigeur:
law-abiding metal detector users have branded the activity ‘abhorrent’. “All our members abide by the Metal Detecting Rules and National Code of Practice,” said Martin Brown, chairman of the Kendal and District Metal Detecting Club.  “Members of the club approach landowners to obtain permission to go onto their land for detecting rallies and any illegal activity is jeopardising the overall good will between a responsible club, its members and landowners.”
Hooray for them, eh?  But wait a second. Look at the Kendal and District Metal Detecting Club's website and take a closer look at that "National Code of Practice"...

It is called on their website: "Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales" . That looks seductively like the title of the official "Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales" (which is missing a hyphen) but the wording is changed and the published version from Kendal misses off the most important section "after you've been metal detecting" (which includes the bit about reporting to the PAS [!]) and replaces it by a reference to an "Advice for Finders" leaflet published on the NCMD website, making it unclear whether adhering to this advice" is part of their club's Code of Practice. What it is doing is misrepresenting a bowldlerised version of "a" code as "the" Code. Basically this shortened "code" contains little not in the more lax NCMD code which most detectorists say they prefer.

But then, I'd like to ask Dr Darrell whether he thinks "following" (either of the) "Codes of Practice:" for artefact hunting in fact stops areas like Little Asby Common being ‘permanently damaged’ by self-centred ("pieces of history in my hand") collectors ripping diagnostic metal artefacts at random out of the area's "rich archaeological heritage". Are these individuals not, however it is done, causing "permanent irrevocable damage to our cultural heritage which others cannot now enjoy"?

UPDATE 16.12.13:
Here's an interesting webpage summarising the landscape history of the region, and describing some of its current landscape values - trampled underfoot by artefact-grabbing hunters (Judy Dunford, 'A Short History of Tarn Pasture')

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