Monday 20 April 2020

Petulant NCMD Leaders Won't Follow the Code, "Unworkable"

The NCMD ("Shut the Gates") Code of Conduct is not all that much concerned with "Responsible Artefact Hunting", shut the gates, fill your holes and everything is fine with them:
Acquaint yourself with the terms and definitions used in [...] The voluntary Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting 2017 Revision. Note: the NCMD is not an endorsee to this version of the Code. Details of why the NCMD did not endorse the Code can be found in issue 25 of Digging Deep.
This is for members only, but there is a copy here, undated [but about 23rd March 2018]. There is a lot of confused tekkie waffle here. Analytical thinking is not their forte. I've picked out in blue what it seems is the kernel of the problem, all the rest is padding trying to create the impression that the NCMD means something. I do not see it as an issue that the PAS annual report was issued on the assumption that the NCMD who had by its own admission been to all the meetings would not petulantly be removing their endorsement over a single (non) issue:

Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting 2017 revisionIssue 24 of Digging Deep carried a STOP PRESS heading concerning an inaccurate statement contained within the Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report 2016 (issued December 2017), implying that the NCMD had endorsed the revised Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting. The NCMD confirms that it has not endorsed the Code of Practice. There were a number of reasons for not doing so and the following article on the background to the revision of the Code and the decision making process aims to clarify the situation as to why the NCMD felt it could not endorse the revised draft at this time.

Review of the Code of Practice For Responsible Metal DetectingThe first Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting was published in 2006 by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) after extensive discussions with stakeholders including the NCMD, the PAS, The Council for British Archaeology and landowner’s organisations. The whole Code was issued as a voluntary document. Its purpose was to replace the various codes and guidance documents produced by a number of local and national organisations on metal detecting.
This new Code aimed to provide guidance on best practice for metal detecting. However it has become clear in recent years that the Code needs updating to take into account changes to agri-environment schemes, finds recording and to add more details of websites and contact points to cover, access, specific types of finds and situations.
The impetus for the Review of the Code came about when the British Museum (BM) carried out its own Review of the PAS and Treasure Department in 2014. This Review identified the need for the PAS to develop a strategy document for the period up to 2020. The strategy document was structured following the responses received from a questionnaire sent out to various parties such as Local Partners and stakeholders including the NCMD which make up the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group (PAAG). The resultant document entitled ‘Treasuring Our Past, Portable Antiquities and Treasure Strategy: 2020’ contained a number of sections each with specific goals and delivered priorities for the PAS to achieve by 2020.
Under Section 3 to ‘Promote Best Practice’ a Best Practice Working Group (BPWG) was established with the following specific aims:
1. Review the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting.2. Suggest ways in which best practice can be better acknowledged.3. Develop a protocol for the emergency excavation of archaeological finds found by members of the public.4. Highlight the value of metal detecting for better understanding the archaeological value of the plough zone.5. Advocate a better system for dealing with finds found on metal detecting rallies.
The NCMD is a member of the BPWG. Work on the review of the Code began in July 2016 involving discussions between all stakeholders represented on the PAAG at a number of meetings at the British Museum.

A final draft of the Code was considered at the PAAG meeting held on the 17 October 2017 where it was also reported that a number of stakeholders had already agreed to endorse the Code. It was also made clear at this meeting by the Chair that no further amendments would be considered and the final draft was ready for endorsement by stakeholders.
However at this meeting Historic England stated that they were not happy that under the Code, permissive metal detecting could take place on Registered Battlefields without it being a part of an organised and structured archaeological survey. Registered Battlefields have no statutory designation that affords legal protection to any material losses other than some physical structural remains which can be given statutory protection as Scheduled Monuments. Battlefield evidence tends to be in the form of random scatters of material often over large areas, the recovery of which is best done through the use of metal detectors. To help overcome this objection, there were suggestions at the meeting that this and other aspects of the Code over which archaeological concerns remained, could be dealt with by the subsequent issue of supplementary guidance notes. Unfortunately the official notes of this meeting are somewhat light on the detail of the discussions and the NCMD considers that they do not accurately reflect what took place. However it was clear that this objection by Historic England had thrown a ‘spanner’ in the works over the endorsement of the Code.
Apparently after the PAAG meeting took place and during subsequent discussions between Historic England and the PAAG Chairman Mike Heyworth, Historic England agreed that “the battlefield issue had been raised late in the day and they did not want it to disrupt moves to ratify the Code.” Historic England had agreed to support the Code. However from the NCMD’s point of view, this issue had not been resolved and no changes had been made to the wording of the Code to address those concerns. The NCMD Executive discussed the final draft of the Code at its meeting on the 26 November 2017. After detailed consideration of the wording of the revised Code and a careful examination of the outstanding issues the NCMD Executive felt it would not be fair to its members if it endorsed the Code at this time. The lack of clarity over metal detecting on Registered Battlefields and how this was dealt with remains of concern.

Additionally, it was demanded by Dr. Heyworth as Chair of the BPWG/PAAG at the meeting on the 17 October, that endorsees take ‘ownership’ of the Code. Precisely what was meant by this undefined term was never made clear and what was expected from the NCMD if it did agree to take “ownership” remains somewhat opaque. The general pressure being applied throughout proceedings and an assumption by third parties that the NCMD would endorse the Code even before it had had the opportunity to discuss the document, made the NCMD Executive feel that the NCMD was being ‘bounced’ into making a decision before the Code was completed to its satisfaction.

After fuller discussions the NCMD considered that the document required further development to make it more workable and above all acceptable to the metal detecting community who would be the main users of the Code. The NCMD is of the opinion that the metal detecting on battlefields aspect could have been dealt with by an additional sentence within the Code pointing out the sensitive nature of battlefield remains. The NCMD whilst not dismissing the work done to develop the wording of the Code, considered that it was as yet an incomplete document which required further work on a number of aspects. It had not rejected the whole wording and considered that the draft discussed provided a basis for good practice blending together statutory requirements and voluntary statements on accepted best practice. It will continue to advise members within Section 8 of the NCMD Code of Conduct, to acquaint themselves with the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting though not as an endorsee.

The NCMD will keep the Code under review until a number of other aspects contained within the PAS Strategy 2020 have been discussed. These include:
1. The review of the Rally Guidance Document.
2. Educating Landowners (now renamed as a revision of the Landowners Leaflet issued in 2010).
3. The forthcoming Review of the Treasure Act Code of Practice.

The intent stated by Dr. Heyworth at the PAAG meeting on the 17 October 2017 that he was not prepared to accept further amendments to the Code meant that the NCMD could not seek further amendments and hence could not endorse it in its current form.

[It is a Conspiracy]The reason for the pressure placed on the hobby representatives became clear at the Ministerial Launch of the Treasure and PAS Annual Reports which took place on the 4 December 2017. The PAS report would have been drafted and printed some time previous to the launch and probably before the PAAG meeting of the 17 October. It was regrettable that the published PAS report distributed on the day contained an erroneous statement on page 9 that the Code had been endorsed by the main metal detecting organisations though the NCMD was not identified by name. So it became clear that an assumption without consultation had been made by both the PAS and the PAAG/BPWG Chairman that the NCMD would endorse the Code even before it had properly discussed and considered the wording of the final draft. The reasons for the pressure placed on stakeholders to endorse the Code at previous meetings now became clearer. It had nothing to do with ensuring the Code and its wording was acceptable and agreed by all stakeholders for the benefit of those who will use it, but it was to meet a political deadline to launch it to the media on the 4 December 2017.

By way of summary it is appreciated that for some members who enjoy the hobby of metal detecting the political dimension may be of little interest. However, it is the politics that governs how the hobby is perceived by the establishment and with it the freedoms currently enjoyed by the hobby as a recognised contributor to the history of the nation. Yet this comes with a price and there are those who seek more to restrict and control rather than encourage the recovery and recording of often vulnerable archaeological material within the plough soil. The NCMD does not have any political affiliations or purpose. As a recognised independent representative body for metal detecting it has to evaluate many potential threat and benefits through its membership of groups such as the PAAG and BPWG. The NCMD Executive made an informed decision, despite pressures to conform, not to endorse the Code of Practice as it currently stands. If members wish to discuss any aspects of the decision making process that led to the taking of this action this can be done initially through your Regional Representatives.
Pity them having to justify this complete load of NCMD bollocks to members. This however is pretty normal from the pathetic little inadequates of the NCMD. It is the people that took this decision that should have to explain themselves and far better than the waffle above.

To be clear, to achieve the recovery and recording of vulnerable archaeological information (for it is not just about the objects!) within the ploughsoil of registered Battlefield sites (and to continue to be recognised as a 'contributor to the history of the nation'), it is already well demonstrated that  the metal detector can be most usefully and less-damagingly used as part of an organised and structured archaeological survey, and not by the wandering-about-anywhere-you -fancy-hoiking methods it seems the NCMD prefers.

What is clear here is that this storm in a teacup has been made because the NDCMD wants to preserve the right of its members to go a hoiking on Registered Battlefields any way they like and without any concern about whether they are doing it in a manner that favours the recording of important information as they pocket all the finds. That's what this is about, and framing it as a conspiracy and claim that they have other 'concerns' is just utterly pathetic. Once again we see clearly that the NCMD quite obviously have no idea how to work together in a committee with other groups.

If you look at what they were saying, their position is quite illogical. At a meeting, HE made a point that it would be useful if the Code was consistent with their own guidelines (Our Portable Past) on the method of treatment of the surface evidence on historic battlefields. Since Code document had already been approved by some organisations quicker off the mark than the NCMD and HE, neither the point on battlefields, nor the guidelines found their way into the current revision of the document. Nevertheless HE endorsed the document. Look how the NCMD is making the absence of these points into the huge issue that prevents them from endorsing it on behalf of its members.

The code however is one that individuals apply to, so what the sad petulant self-important old men of the NCMD think of it is neither here nor there. But what they are doing is driving a wedge between the detectorists that do want to be responsible, and looking for guidance and the world of archaeology represented by the bodies that took part in creating and approve of the revised text.

But if NCMD leaders refuse to apply the only official Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales to their artefact hunting, by what right have they assumed the position of hobby leaders? That very fact undermines the legitimacy of (so-called "Responsible") artefact hunting in the UK.

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