Guidance for organisers of metal detecting rallies

This guidance note is for organisers of metal-detecting rallies and large scale detecting events and those attending such events. It aims to facilitate and implement the responsible reporting and recording of finds at metal-detecting rallies. It does not cover activities associated with the organisation of public events, such as events management, licenses and risk assessment.

The practical considerations involved in making good finds records at rallies, given the circumstances and the large number of metal-detectorists involved, provides a challenge for the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the aim of which is to record archaeological finds made by the public. Landholders and rally organisers should also be aware that there can be considerable cost implications for both PAS and Local Authority staff in ensuring an adequate archaeological response to a rally. In addition, if the rally takes place on or near a known archaeological site, then it is especially important to obtain the best possible information about the objects found and their contexts. These considerations apply equally to events held for charitable purposes. It is hoped that finds found by individuals or during club events would be recorded with the local Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) in the normal manner. It is assumed that the landowner has given permission for all finds to be properly recorded with the PAS.

These guidelines supplement the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-detecting in England and Wales by providing specific guidelines for rallies and large scale events.

If the land to be searched is under an Entry Level Scheme Natural England needs to be contacted at least 12 weeks beforehand so that they can provide the landholder with additional advice to ensure that the event does not conflict with the requirements and objectives of the ELS agreement.

Definition of a metal-detecting rally

  • The Entry Level Stewardship Handbook (2nd edition, October 2008) states that 'details of large scale metal detecting events, including metal detecting rallies, on any ELS agreement land must be notified to Natural England at least 12 weeks in advance of the event.' Any event attended by more than 50 detector-users will fall within this scope.

For organisers being responsible means

  • Liaising with both the local FLO and the Historic Environment Record (HER) Officer as early as possible (at least 12 weeks before the event) to see whether any areas of the proposed rally site includes known archaeological sites. The organiser should provide the FLO and other parties with maps (at least to a scale of 1:25,000) annotated with the fields to be searched and the expected number of participants. If the HER record shows that the rally site includes a known archaeological site, then the HER Officer and FLO may discuss with the rally organiser how best to ensure an adequate record of the finds is obtained. For particularly significant sites, it may be appropriate to limit the number of people attending the rally or the area to be searched
  • Always inviting the local FLO to attend the rally. If the FLO is able to attend, ensuring that all those attending the rally record their finds with the FLO and actively encouraging this throughout the day. If the FLO is unable to attend, organisers should make alternative arrangements to have adequate archaeological presence on site throughout the rally and proactively instruct finders to record with their local FLO afterwards. In such cases, the organiser should provide all those attending the rally with maps of the area detected, so that finders can record their finds, with findspots, with their local FLO afterwards.
  • Before the event it would be helpful if the organiser provided those attending the event further information about how to record finds, relevant legislation and useful contact details, together with finds bags and a map of the area. Organisers should remind all participants of the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales (available at http://www.finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/codeofpractice)
  • If the rally is taking place in the vicinity of a protected site (e.g. those defined as Scheduled Monuments or Sites of Special Scientific Interest), or a sensitive area where it has been agreed that the detecting will not take place, ensuring that the protected area is clearly marked (since it is often unclear where the boundaries lie on the ground, there should be a buffer zone of 20m around such sites). Advice on the extent of sites can be obtained from EH or NE.
  • Taking measures to ensure the precise recording of findspots (to at least a 100m2, and ideally to 10m2), since that is of crucial importance for understanding the archaeological significance of the site; ideally this could be done by recording with Global Positioning Systems (GPS) devices, otherwise numbering or marking the different areas of the fields to be searched.
  • Organising search areas only on ground that has already been disturbed (such as ploughed land or that which has been ploughed within the last 5 years), and only within the depth of ploughing;.
  • Providing adequate resources to ensure the proper recording of finds at the rally, including facilities for FLOs to be able to record finds, such as maps of the area being searched, a space in a tent, a table and chairs.

For those attending rallies being responsible means

  • Following the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal-Detecting in England and Wales at all times.
  • If an FLO is not in attendance, your local FLO will be happy to record your finds afterwards (see www.finds.org.uk or call 020 7323 8611/18): in such cases it is important to get the best possible information about where the find was made.
  • If FLOs are present, offering all your finds for recording to them. Non-metal finds, fragmentary and common finds can be as important to record as metal ones. If it is an important find, we may ask you to record it again with your local FLO afterwards, so that a better record can be made.
  • Asking the organisers for a map of the fields being detected, making a note of where you found your finds on the map and showing it to the FLO. The better the findspot information, the better we are able to understand the site as a whole.
  • Bagging your finds individually and writing the findspot on the bag, as this helps keep the find and record of its findspot together and stops damage to the finds. Follow current conservation advice on the handling, care and storage of archaeological objects (see www.finds.org.uk).

Treasure and important finds

  • The Treasure Act Code of Practice states: 'organisers of metal-detecting rallies should ensure that all participants in the rally are aware of their legal obligations under the Act' (the local FLO can help with this). If present, the FLO can take potential Treasure finds in at the rally (and issue a receipt) and offer further guidance on the Treasure Act. The organiser must inform the landowner if Treasure is found on the rally and make them aware of their rights and obligations under the Treasure Act.
  • The rally organiser should ensure that important finds (such as hoards and human remains) are dealt with an appropriate manner. They should seek expert help in such cases. It is good practice for the rally organiser to discuss with the FLO and HER before the event how important finds will be dealt with.

Export licences

  • All archaeological objects more than fifty years old that are found in the soil or the territorial waters of the UK require an export licence before they are taken out of this country. The rally organiser is recommended to ensure that any metal-detector user from abroad who attends the rally and who wishes to take the finds out of this country is aware of their legal responsibility to obtain an export licence before doing so (see www.artscouncil.org.uk). Detector users from abroad need to be aware that it takes several weeks to obtain an export licence and that they will therefore need to make arrangements for their finds to be sent to them once the licence has been obtained.

This Guidance Note has been drawn up in consultation with the following organisations who all endorse the recommended approach:

  1. Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers
  2. Council for British Archaeology
  3. English Heritage
  4. Portable Antiquities Scheme
  5. Society of Museum Archaeologists


Further relevant information can be found on the following web sites:

Portable Antiquities Scheme (including contact details of regional Finds Liaison Officers): www.finds.org.uk

Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (including contact details for local Historic Environment Record services): www.algao.org.uk

English Heritage (for details of Scheduled Ancient Monuments): www.english-heritage.org.uk

Council for British Archaeology (for general information on archaeology): www.britarch.ac.uk

January 2009

Attendance of PAS staff at metal-detecting rallies

Rally organisers should follow the Guidance on Metal-detecting Rallies in England and Wales. Finds Liaison Officers may only consider attending rallies where rally organisers follow this guidance.

In summary, the guidance says that the rally organiser should:

  1. Liaise with the FLO (and local HER) to discuss the proposed rally as soon as possible; ideally at least 12 weeks before the rally (2).
  2. Allow searching only on ploughed land, and mark off areas where searching is prohibited (5 & 7).
  3. Invite the FLO to attend, or make alternative plans for recording finds with the FLO (3).
  4. Provide those searching with information on where to record their finds and a map of the area being searched (4).
  5. Take measures to ensure the precise recording of findspots (6).
  6. Provide the FLO with adequate facilities to record finds (8).
  7. Ensuring that those who attend report Treasure and follow any other necessary reporting obligations, such submitting export licences for finds to be exported outside the UK (14 & 16).

Finds Liaison Officers attend metal-detecting rallies in order to record archaeological finds, so that these discoveries might add to knowledge of our past. Rallies do not provide the ideal circumstances for recording finds, but with the support of the rally organiser, as well as those searching, it is possible to record high numbers of finds with precise findspots.

MJL 4/6/13