Sunday 29 July 2012

Disregard Sites of Special Scientific Interest, go Ahead and Damage Them

Natural England (English Nature) really cares about birds and trees and little fluffy animals. They could not give a tinkers, it seems, about the preservation of an important part of the historical environment, in particular any buried archaeology. This is the upshot of an email recently published on a metal detecting forum.

The background to this is that one of the basic units of Britain's rather fuzzy and disjointed environmental protection 'system' (I use that term loosely in this context) is the Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) regulated by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with later amendments. Metal detectorist "Jay76" (Wed Mar 09, 2011 4:42 pm) wanted to go and hoik objects out of the publicly accessible parts of the Hampshire coast and Isle of Wight which are Crown Estate, so foreshore (high to low tide). He apparently already has a Crown Estate permit (and where the area of the coast he wishes to take finds from is leased to a third party - e.g., a local authority - their permission too).  The stumbling block was that some of the areas concerned are registered as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. But he wants to go into them to hoik objects out of them too. Out of Sites of Special Scientific Interest you understand. Now the Code of responsible Artefact Hunting in England in Wales is quite clear about respecting such areas (the phrasing is actually about the "laws" however). Anyway Jay decided to write to English Nature who has stewardship over such sites countrywide and see if he could get permission. What do you reckon his chances were, dear reader? What did the fluffy bunny "conservationists" say?
Dear Jay
I would call, but I think you would probably like something in writing, hence the email.
Just to confirm, Natural England does not need to grant consent for this activity in this instance – we do not believe that it constitutes an operation likely to damage the designated sites, due to the scale of the activity, and the fact that they are all publically (sic) accessible anyway. We do appreciate you coming to us and asking though.
So, feel free to start your metal detecting.
Kind regards
Charlotte Rose
Conservation Advisor
South Hampshire and Isle of Wight
So, I take it that "artefact hunting and digging" are not on the list of Operations Requiring Consent, that is  Potentially Damaging Operations (PDOs)/ Operations Likely to Damage (OLDs), the SSSI? Is that right ? So Natural England does not need to grant consent for digging holes in sites of Special Scientific Interest and removing archaeological and historical interest because they are not of any scientific interest? Is that what the  South Hampshire and Isle of Wight "Conservation Advisor" believes? Is that what her bosses believe? They really do believe that selectively hoiking out archaeological artefacts from such sites does not "constitute an operation likely to damage the designated sites"? Just what DO they believe in fact? Have they talked this over with the CBA and other archaeological bodies (forget the PAS as they are hardly likely to express an opinion that would be seen to be restricting of "collectors' rights' would they)?

Artefact hunting quite obviously does deplete the information value of archaeological sites, and in cases when such a site is contained within an SSSI (ie is an integral part of the structure and history of the SSSI) then surely it is inexcusable for those having "stewardship" of such sites to sign away their responsibilities to protect it and manage any potentially damaging exploitation so blithely. Shame on you Charlotte Rose.

By the way the correct legal procedure is for the landowner to contact Natural England, not the interloper on their property. Charlotte's limitless permit has no legal standing, I thought that worth pointing out since the rest of the thread is about detectorists printing out and laminating Ms Rose's remarks for their own use on other SSSIs dotted around the country - where of course the list of OLDs may be different - for example the guy who was detecting next to the scheduled site at the oppidum of Hengistbury.

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