Sunday 7 July 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Buxton Permanent Pasture Rally

Heathylee farm (aka, it seems, Hill Top Farm, Hollinsclough,  Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 0RD) in the hills just south of Buxton are taking Higher Level Stewardship money to "conserve" their herds of native breeds, like Guanaco and Mediterranean Miniature Donkey who help to "keep this beautiful landscape in good environmental shape". They've got "traditional" wild-flower hay meadows and a site of special scientific interest.

Mr Fletcher also has here "Over 100 acres of virgin ground", "all of which has never been detected before". So of course like any environmentally-minded farmer getting subsidies to conserve the resources of his land, the farmer has decided to hold a heritage-hoiking commercial artefact grabfest on this land. Just 15 quid a head for eight hours hoiking ( a fiver extra if you want lunch) with a target of fifty detectorists. He calls it the Staffordshire Moors Detecting Rally (carefully reminding potential participants about the so-called "Staffordshire Moors Pan" [PAS: WMID-3FE965] found in June 2003 on the bits of the Staffordshire Moors in Staffordshire, not like his bit in Derbyshire).
What’s on offer at this Rally?[...] On site, we have part of an ancient drovers route. [..] There are the remains of a couple of tiny buildings (possibly shepherds huts) and a strange mound (pictured left). [...] Is there gold in them there hills ? There is only one way to find out. Book your place and join us on October 6th for a great day’s detecting.
An additional enticement: "This part of the Staffordshire Moorlands was renown (sic) in days gone by for lawlessness [...] Who knows what ill gotten gains were buried[?]"

Who knows what ill-gotten archaeological finds are going to be hoiked away on October 6th? The rally organizer fantasises ("The Boring Bit") that the participants are going "to comply with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting". I don't expect though that he's read it since one of the key points about the bits of it you do while detecting (I do not see how he's going to enforce the bits of it that apply to "after" the rally) is keep off permanent pasture - you know, the kind that is untouched for centuries and has remains of buildings and strange mounds visible on the surface, potentially with archaeological deposits just below the grass roots.

 It also seems he's not understood the Code of Practice or is just soft in the head. He stipulates "Any finds under the PAS (Portable Antiquities Scheme) are 50/50 split with farmer". First of all, that should be "the landowner or his agent", since the Internet search suggests that the farm is not owned by the bloke who farms it. Secondly, the Code of Practice says that all finds have to be shown to the PAS, and the rally organizer wants a 50% cut of those finds to go to the landowner. What does this mean? If a finder finds two hammered coins, three finger rings and four musket balls, the rally organizers want one hammered coin, one and a half finger rings and two musket balls back? Or does the contract imply that the finder has to sell them, or get them valued (by whom, when and how?) and then give the landowner half of the monetary value? The former would rather take the incentive for an artefact hunter and collector to come to the "Heathylee Environmental Farm" rally, the second would considerably increase the costs (on top of the petrol money to get there, the participant has to buy a second time from the landowner what he has found). Now, the landowner is quite within his rights to demand whatever he likes of these blokes he lets onto his land, but making the criterion of value the fact that an artefact is shown to the PAS is hardly the way to encourage recording of non-Treasure items to the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

By the way, of course the PAS - like the BM - are not allowed to provide valuations of artefacts.

It seems to me only right that landowners getting state subsidies for environmental conservation (especially Higher Level public cash handouts) and who then go ahead with organizing environment-damaging events like this should lose their subsidy, and only be eligible to regain it (like if you've lost your driving licence for too many penalty points) upon attending a landscape heritage management course. 

Vignette: Commercial artefact hunting rallies rip the history out of  landscapes like this for commercial gain. Let's try to keep the historical environment of beautiful landscapes like this in good shape by hindering such misuse.

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