Guidance for landowners, occupiers and tenant farmers in England and Wales

Metal-detecting, Field-walking and Searching for Archaeological Objects: guidance for landowners, occupiers and tenant farmers in England and Wales

This guidance had been jointly produced by the Country, Land & Business Association, the National Farmers Union and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, September 2010.


  • Many people go to the countryside to search for archaeological objects. They mostly search on cultivated and arable land.
  • The majority of people looking for archaeological objects are metal-detector users, and are likely to be members of the National Council for Metal Detecting ( and/or the Federation of Independent Detectorists ( Both organisations have a Code of Conduct by which their members are required to operate as a condition of membership and also provide members with public liability insurance.
  • Field-walkers and/or other amateur or professional archaeologists also may seek permission to search. In most cases they will recover finds from the soil surface, such as worked flint or pottery, but (with the landowner/farmer occupier's permission) may also wish to excavate. Such individuals may be affiliated to a local museum, archaeological society, university or be professional archaeological contractors. Many archaeologists will be members of the Institute for Archaeologists ( and follow its Code of Conduct.
  • A Code of Practice on Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (see has been endorsed by all key archaeological bodies and metal-detecting and landowner/farmer organisations. This is the first time that these bodies have joined together to define responsible metal-detecting and provide a clear definition of what constitutes good practice.
  • Landowner/farmer occupiers also have a duty of care under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 and 1984.


  • If undertaken responsibly, with all discovered finds identified, reported and recorded (see below), then metal-detecting, like field-walking and other archaeological fieldwork, can provide valuable information about the archaeology and history of the countryside. Today, most archaeologists recognise the benefits of responsible metal-detecting, particularly for retrieving and recording finds vulnerable to corrosion and damage.
  • The presence of people on land with permission also may discourage trespassing, fly-tipping, vandalism and other illicit or unwanted activity by others, as well as provide warning of sick, injured or straying livestock.


  • Anyone wishing to search for archaeological objects must have the landowner's permission to search. An occupier of the land, such as a tenant farmer, may need to clear any permissions with the landowner or landlord first. If a tenant fails to do so, he may be in breach of his tenancy agreement.

Finds Agreement

  • It is recommended that landowners/farmer occupiers have a written 'finds agreement' (available from the CLA or NFU) with anyone wishing to search, outlining the nature of the permission, the area to be searched and what happens to any objects found.


  • It is illegal to use a metal-detector on Scheduled Monuments, without permission from English Heritage (England) or Cadw (Wales).
  • It is a criminal offence to undertake works affecting a scheduled monument without written consent from the Secretary of State. New applications for scheduled monument consent, and applications to modify existing consents, should be sent to English Heritage or Cadw.
  • Metal-detecting is not permitted on archaeological sites on holdings with Higher Level Stewardship agreements or Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) without the permission of Natural England: such sites will be identified in the landowner/farmer occupier's Farm Environment Plan.
  • There are no restrictions on metal-detecting on Entry Level Stewardship land providing searchers follow the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and that the landowner/farmer occupier's permission is obtained: Natural England requires up to 12 weeks notice of any large scale metal-detecting events (known as rallies).

Metal-detecting Rallies

Katie recording the Iron Age gold stater

  • In the view of most archaeologists, metal-detecting rallies can be extremely damaging to archaeology. Often uncontrolled, searching takes place over a large area of land, and it is almost impossible for archaeologists (when invited) to make a proper record of all objects found. To reduce damage and ensure better preservation of the archaeological record it is recommended that metal-detecting rally organisers should follow the Guidance on Metal-Detecting Rallies in England and Wales.

Illegal Searching

  • Anyone searching on land without permission is committing trespass. Anyone removing objects from land without the landowner/farmer occupier's permission is committing theft. Anyone metal-detecting and removing objects from a Scheduled Monument will be committing an offence under the Archaeological Areas and Ancient Monuments Act 1979. There may also be acts of criminal damage.
  • If a landowner/farmer occupier discovers illegal searching activities then he/she should call the police, and make it clear to the attending officer/s that action should to be taken against the offender/s (if landowners/farmer occupiers are aware of the relevant legislation this may help). Make a note of the name and shoulder number of any attending officers, and insist on an intelligence/crime reference number for your own records. The CLA and NFU can offer guidance to landowners on legal options, including potential civil action in cases of trespass.

Ownership of Archaeological Objects

  • By law, archaeological objects (apart from Treasure - see below) normally belong to the landowner. Archaeologists will generally make provision with the landowner for objects they find to go into a public collection, such as a museum. Most metal-detectorists and some other finders may want to keep finds they make (for their own collection or to perhaps sell on).
  • Landowners may wish to see the objects before they make any decisions about their future ownership; any written agreement between landowner and finder (see above) should make it clear what happens to the finds.
  • It is recommended that all archaeological finds (apart from those found as part of a professional archaeological excavation, which should be published separately) should be recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (see below); its Finds Liaison Officers can also help determine whether a local museum may wish to acquire any of the finds discovered.

Recording and Reporting - Treasure

  • Under the Treasure Act 1996 finders of potential Treasure have a legal obligation to report such finds to the coroner within 14 days. Once reported, a coroner's inquest is held to determine whether or not the find is Treasure.
  • The following finds are Treasure if found after 24 September 1997 (or, in the case of point 2, if found after 1 January 2003):
  • Any object (other than a coin) that is at least 10% (by weight of metal) gold or silver and that it is at least 300 years old. Prehistoric objects will be Treasure if any part of it is gold or silver;
  • Any group of two or more metallic objects of any composition of prehistoric date that come from the same find;
  • All coins from the same find provided they are at least 300 years old when found. If the coins contain less than 10% gold or silver there must be at least ten of them;
  • Any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object that is Treasure; or
  • Any object that would previously have been Treasure Trove, but does not fall within the specific categories given above, i.e. objects that are less than 300 years old, made substantially of gold or silver, and that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown.
  • Museums have the opportunity to acquire Treasure. These finds are valued by an independent committee (Treasure Valuation Committee) and a reward (equal to the full market value of the find) is usually divided between the finder, the landowner and/or the occupier, unless there is agreement otherwise. All parties may wish to donate their share of the reward to enable a museum to acquire a find at reduced or no cost.
  • If a museum does not wish to acquire the find then it will be 'disclaimed' and handed back to the finder. The landowner will be informed of this decision and may object.
  • There is an illegal trade in non-reported Treasure finds, thus depriving landowners and occupiers of land of a reward and museums of the opportunity to acquire such finds. The non-reporting of Treasure is illegal and carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for 3 months and/or a fine of up to £5,000. The British Museum monitors eBay and elsewhere for unreported Treasure and liaises with the police as appropriate.
  • For a full definition of the Treasure Act 1996 and the Treasure Act Code of Practice see

Other (non-Treasure) finds

  • Apart from Treasure, finders have no other legal obligation to report finds (although human remains must be reported to the police). There might also be a requirement to record archaeological finds as part of any land stewardship agreements entered into.
  • All archaeological finds (whether there is a legal obligation to report them or not) provide valuable information about how and where people lived, worked and died in the past. Since 1997 the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a national network of archaeologists known as Finds Liaison Officers, has been established to record archaeological objects found by the public.
  • Finds Liaison Officers are keen to examine any archaeological finds found by the public. In order to make a full record (including description, photograph, weight and measurements) they may need to borrow such finds for a while. A receipt will be given for all finds left for recording. The Finds Liaison Officer will also wish to record precise findspot information (i.e. where the object was found); increasingly, metal-detectorists and other people searching for archaeological objects use handheld GPS (Global Positioning Systems) devices to plot where finds are discovered. After recording, the find is normally returned to the person who submitted it.
  • The aim of the Portable Antiquities Scheme is to make information about finds recorded as widely available as possible for education and research, while protecting personal details and archaeological sites from damage. Details of finds are published on the Scheme's online database, but find spots will not be identified more precisely than a National Grid Reference (NGR) of four figures (which identifies 1km2). The most sensitive find spots will not even be identified as accurately as this.
  • The Portable Antiquities Scheme makes this data is made available to third parties, such as Historic Environment Records (the key local databases of information about historic sites etc held by many local authorities), other statutory bodies and researchers, who must abide by the same terms and conditions for publishing data online as the Scheme follows.
  • The information given to Finds Liaison Officers is subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 1984.
  • Both the CLA and NFU recommend that landowners and farmer occupiers should encourage the reporting of archaeological finds from their land.

Landowners' and Farmer Occupiers' Checklist

  • Have a written 'finds agreement' with anyone wishing to search.
  • Ask to see all archaeological finds discovered.
  • Ask that all finds are recorded with the local Finds Liaison Officer - each find will have a unique reference number that can be searched online.
  • Consider donating important finds to a local museum, or give them first refusal on objects offered for sale.
  • Report any illegal activity to the police.

Other issues

Will the reporting of finds lead to archaeological excavation?

In a very small number of cases it is possible that an archaeologist might want to follow up a discovery with excavation. For example, if a coin hoard is discovered it may be useful to undertake a small excavation to learn more about why the find was buried. Archaeologists will always need the landowner/farmer occupier's permission to carry out further work including excavation. They will also produce a 'project plan' outlining what they want to do, how and when, including any damage to crop or property and the full and proper restoration of the area afterwards. Archaeological excavation can be a very expensive process which is not undertaken lightly. It is standard practice that finds recovered by archaeologists are deposited (as part of the site archive) with a local museum for public benefit.

If finds are reported and something interesting is discovered, then might this not restrict what I can do on the land?

It is unlikely that metal-detector or field-walked finds alone would lead to restrictions on farming or lead to an area being protected (scheduled), but they do help archaeologists understand the risk to underlying archaeology and/or the archaeological potential of the land if it is ever developed. While archaeology might impact on planned development (and the developer is expected to cover the costs of any appropriate archaeological work needed) metal-detected or field-walked finds alone are unlikely to impede development.

If a finder asks me to plough deeper in the hope of recovering further objects, what should I do?

Ploughing can cause damage to undisturbed archaeology and loss of information about the past, so if requested by a finder deep-ploughing should be resisted. It is likely that many of the objects uprooted would not be found immediately and would subsequently become damaged and be of less (archaeological and financial) value. It is better for objects in undisturbed ground to be excavated properly, although archaeologists (given limited resources) will normally only excavate sites at greatest risk of damage or those of greatest importance. It is also possible that deep ploughing could bring buried debris, such as building rubble, to the surface which could interfere with cultivation.

Further Information

  • Portable Antiquities Scheme, Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure, British Museum, London, WC1B 3DG.Tel: 020 7323 8611. Email: |
  • Country Land & Business Association (CLA), 16 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PQ. Tel: 020 7235 0511. Email: |
  • National Farmers Union (NFU), Agriculture House, Stoneleigh Park, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire, CV8 2TZ. Tel: (NFU Call First) 0870 845 8458. Email: |