Treasure hunters warned off important ancient sites
A surge in the number of metal detector enthusiasts in the wake of the astonishing discovery of a hoard of Roman coins on the Wiltshire-Somerset border is being blamed for damage to a number of nationally-important archaeological sites in west Wiltshire.
Police chiefs, English Heritage and the National Trust said yesterday they are concerned about a spate of illegal metal detecting activity at important sites on the western edge of Salisbury Plain – which are all ancient Iron Age settlements and hillforts.
Damage has been done to Battlesbury Hill, Cley Hill, Bratton Camp and Scratchbury Hill, around Warminster, and ‘nighthawking’, or illegal metal detecting under the cover of darkness, is being blamed.
The police said digging up the ground to find and remove objects is a form of theft, and heritage bosses said serious damage is being done to some of the West’s most precious ancient sites.
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A boom in metal detectoring has been reported following high profile, and legal, finds like the one made by Devizes enthusiast Dave Crisp. He found a huge hoard of 52,000 Roman coins in a field near Frome, with the consent of the landowner, and called in the heritage authorities before it had even been dug up.
Mr Crisp has since written a guidebook for new metal detector enthusiasts, but many are ignoring those warnings about illegal activity.
“Many protected archaeological sites in Wiltshire are very popular places, but to hear that people are visiting these sites with the intention of stealing from the land is extremely disappointing,” said Inspector Lindsey Winter, Warminster’s police chief. “The general public need to understand that illegal metal detecting is an offence, and that those people visiting sites for this purpose are not welcome. Wiltshire police will be dealing robustly with anyone we find committing offences.”
National Trust experts said not only are the sites themselves being ruined by the diggers, but what could be learned from the finds is lost too.
And English Heritage’s policing and crime advisor, Mark Harrison, said night-time illegal metal detectoring was not a harmless hobby. “These are not people enjoying a hobby, nor professionals carrying out a careful study. Any objects removed belong to the landowner, and the history that is being stolen belongs to all of us,” he said.