Institute of Detectorists – a cause for concern?

Update

I have now published a follow-up article IOD – the hidden agenda , following a Freedom of Information request to Historic England. The article below provides the background to the IOD and is worth reading first.

Letter from NCMD

I recently received a circularised letter from the National Council for Metal Detecting (NCMD), addressed to all its members. The letter stated that the NCMD was not going to participate on the Advisory Board of the Institute of Detectorists.

Four questions

In this article, I have set out the background and consequences of that decision and pose four questions:

  1. Should the NCMD participate on the Advisory Board?
  2. Is the Association of Detectorists a competent body to run an Institute of Detectorists?
  3. Could the Institute of Detectorists be used as a vehicle to restrict the hobby of metal detecting?
  4. Is the Institute of Detectorists a cause for concern?

Your views

At the end of each of the 4 sections below is an instant poll where you can vote on these four questions. I would welcome your views in the comments section at the end. It is also possible to comment on specific points in the article, wherever you see the green comment box.

Association of Detectorists

The Institute of Detectorists (IOD) is part of the Association of Detectorists (AOD).

The AOD is a Community Interest Company led by a detectorist named Keith Westcott. On his website at www.detectorists.org.uk the main stated aim is “In support of the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting“. Another aim of IOD is to provide an educational programme to detectorists, which would allow them to assist archaeologists on their digs.

I think most responsible detectorists would applaud both these aims.

Historic England award grant to IOD

On 17 July 2020, Historic England announced it had awarded a grant of £50,000 to the IOD. In their grant application, the AOD states that they intend to become “...a recognised membership body which is able to set and monitor standards of metal detecting ...”. This would suggest that their intentions have grown somewhat from those stated on their website.

In their announcement (available here), Historic England says “A Project Advisory Board and Focus group will be set up to help steer the development of the Institute [of Detectorists]“. The article also states that “the detecting community will be consulted“.

Composition of Advisory Board

The Institute of Detectorists aim is to train detectorists and establish a membership body for them. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that the Advisory Board for this Institute would have a significant representation from the detecting community.

Only with this input would it be possible to properly understand how different groups of detectorist operate and how any training could most effectively be delivered to them.

However, only 1 space out of 15 had been reserved for a representative of the detecting community. Most of the remaining 14 spaces are for organisations with an archaeological interest.

Numismatics

A varied range of archaeology will be represented but will there be anyone from the world of numismatics? I have said a number of times that never in the whole course of human history has one hobby (numismatics) owed so much to another hobby (metal detecting). The great leaps in numismatic scholarship over recent decades are mostly due to metal detecting finds.

My point here is that any ‘Association’ or ‘Institute’ that seeks to examine in any way whatsoever the hobby of metal detecting should include one or more knowledgeable representatives from the numismatic world.
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Do You agree?x


NCMD declines to take part

The NCMD is the main umbrella group for metal detectorists and would therefore be the natural body to represent the detecting community on the Advisory Board. However, in NCMD’s letter to its members, it said it is not going to be involved because “we do not believe that we will have an effective voice in the group“. Their concern is that they are the lone voice representing detectorists on the Advisory Board.

The circular goes on to outline a number of concerns that they have regarding restrictions that may be placed on metal detecting.

Previous consultations involving Historic England and NCMD

NCMD was on the advisory group that prepared the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting 2017 (COP). In a detailed article in Digging Deep 25, available here, it considered that its views had not been listened to and that Historic England “had thrown a spanner in the works”. The NCMD did not endorse the COP.

Q1. Should NCMD participate on the Advisory Board?

Should the NCMD participate on the Advisory Board of the IOD so that the voice of the metal detecting community is heard? If they don’t participate, are they allowing the IOD just to dictate new restrictions on metal detecting. The IOD can say that they asked the metal detecting community for their views but they declined to participate.

Or would the NCMD just be wasting their time – they are unpaid volunteers after all. Their voice would be one amongst 14 others. Could their attendance give an undue credibility to the IOD?

What do you think? Please vote below:

AOD’s Competency

The second area to consider is whether AOD is competent to establish an Institute of Detectorists by looking at what skills their founder Keith Westcott can offer and what the AOD have achieved so far.

Skills

In Keith’s biography on his website (here) he details a number of achievements which indicate that he has experience in

  • founding significant sized enterprises
  • setting standards as an expert
  • organising and managing groups of people
  • metal detecting for 24 years

This set of skills and experience certainly seem pertinent to the role. However, I couldn’t find anything in his biography to indicate that he had experience in delivering training or running a membership based organisation.

The biography also states that Keith “concentrates on his volunteer roles within various organisations“. This is commendable but perhaps these multiple demands on his time explain the apparent lack of achievement so far by the AOD, as detailed below:

Code of Practice

As stated on their website, the initial main aim of the AOD was “In support of the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting” (COP). Having a Code of Practice for metal detecting, which balances the interests of archaeology and metal detecting, is clearly a good thing. All responsible detectorists would support and follow this. However, there would appear to be a number of problems with this COP.

No single Code of Practice

The lack of endorsement of the COP by the NCMD is clearly a major issue. This leads to there being two separate codes for detectorists to follow, both with broadly the same aims. If the COP were endorsed by the NCMD then it would be much more widely publicised and adopted. The current version is from 2017. In the three years since then, there has been no progress in revising the COP so that the NCMD could endorse it.

Layout

There is no consistent layout of the COP. The versions on the IOD’s webpage, the PAS webpage (here) and the PDF version (here) are all different.

The layout of the PDF is confused and some of the advice is bizarre; it states that if you find human remains, explosives or notice any illegal activity that you should report that “After you have been metal detecting”. Clearly, if you see any of these events, you should report them immediately.

None of the versions are mobile friendly. Nearly half the users of this site access it through a mobile and detectorists wanting to consult the code while detecting will certainly access it through a mobile. The lack of a mobile friendly version demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the target audience accesses information.

Marketing

There is no branding or logo for the COP, which would allow it to be recognised on websites or other publications. The front cover is dull and not engaging.

The COP does not appear on the Historic England website and is hidden below several layers of menu on the PAS website at www.finds.org.uk.

Has the AOD failed in its primary aim?

Given the COP is poorly laid out, contains inappropriate advice and is not adequately marketed, has the AOD failed in its primary objective?
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Do You agree?x

The support given to the current COP is so lacklustre that it almost feels like a strategy; allowing it to be said that a voluntary code was not followed so it has to be made mandatory.

Courses

The AOD’s other stated aim is to educate detectorists through courses. However, as shown on its website (here) , it has run only one course, back in November 2018. In its article, Historic England tell us that this course won the Archaeological Training Forum Award. Historic England is a member of the forum that makes the award (see here).

Therefore, has the AOD also failed in the second of its stated aims?
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Do You agree?x

Website

On AOD’s website here the content does not appear to have been updated for some time. Apart from a Twitter feed, there is no mention of the award of the grant from Historic England, the Advisory Board’s constitution and purpose, new courses etc.

Cookies and Privacy

As confirmed by a third party scan, (available here), the AOD’s website is using non-functional cookies that collect personal data. No consent for the use of cookies was being sought from users. This is contrary to the UK-GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and amended Data Protection Act 2018, which require that explicit consent is sought from users.

If the website collects personal data, it must also have a privacy policy. I could not find a privacy policy on AOD’s website.

Other activity

When I look at the AOD’s webpage or IOD’s Twitter feed here there appears to be very little activity. The Twitter feed appears to be entirely retweets of other people’s posts, except one pinned tweet to announce the award of £50,000 by Historic England.

Building relationships with the detecting community

As mentioned above, there would appear to be a rift between Historic England and NCMD. From its letter to members, the NCMD seems to treat the AOD with distrust. I can see no evidence that AOD have sought to connect with the detecting community, either through the NCMD or otherwise.

Q2. Is the AOD a competent body to set up an Institute of Detectorists?

The founder of AOD appears to have a good skill set for the role.

However, the AOD has failed to deliver on its two existing aims. The lack of activity, engagement with the detecting community and attention to detail, particularly in regard to GDPR, are a serious concern.

What do you think? Please vote below:

Does any of this matter?

You may be concerned that a public body has awarded £50,000 to the IOD given its performance to date.
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Do You agree?x

Some detectorists are also concerned about the IOD seeking to place restrictions on hobby metal detecting. This could be done either indirectly, through conditions on agricultural grants, or directly through changes in the law.

Conditions on agricultural grants

As shown on Historic England’s webpage here, the awarding of grants on some agricultural land is conditional on land owners ensuring that “all hobby metal detecting must be undertaken in accordance with the current Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting” [emphasis added].

Hence, a condition on an agricultural grant is effectively turning a voluntary code into a mandatory one, by a backdoor route.
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Do You agree?x

The AOD is strongly linked to the current Code of Practice. A simple mechanism to further restrict metal detecting is simply to revise the Code of Practice. This could include measures such as the need for a training certificate or licence, presumably issued by the IOD.

Note also that it is hobby metal detecting that is being targeted.

Changes in the law

On Friday (4 December 2020), the culture minister, Caroline Dinenage announced plans to widen the official definition of “treasure”, in the 1996 Treasure Act, to cover more rare and precious archaeological finds. In particular this is to include objects from Roman Britain that do not meet the current criteria since they are often made from bronze. Plans to streamline the treasure process were also announced. These plans to protect more of our precious history and make it easier for everyone to follow the treasure process are clearly to be supported.

The announcement also said that detectorists, archaeologists, museums, academies and curators will have the opportunity to contribute to inform the new definition. The issue is that the only real voice for detectorists is the NCMD, which is an unpaid volunteer organisation that may not have the resources to take part. In contrast, the IOD has received public funds to further its aims.

The concern is that the consultation to revise the 1996 Treasure Act will be hijacked by parties with a specific interest, such as the IOD, to restrict hobby metal detecting beyond what could be supported by the metal detecting community.

Q3. Could the IOD be used as a vehicle to restrict the hobby of metal detecting?

When I read blogs or posts on detecting forums on this issue, there is a concern that the IOD is a means to restrict metal detecting. This would be achieved by the imposition of increasing requirements on detectorists, such as membership of the IOD, training certificates and licences.

Or, is the IOD simply an educational body, seeking to assist those that wish to develop their metal detecting skills?

What do you think? Please vote below:

Contribution of Metal Detecting to preserving our heritage

Metal detecting saves coins and artefacts

I count myself as being very fortunate indeed to be involved in a hobby that is responsible for saving so many precious coins and artefacts from being irreparably damaged by farming machinery, or the actions of modern-day chemicals deposited on farm land.

Finds reported

The vast majority of finds reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) are by detectorists. The current total is 1,514,486 objects within 969,912 records. These finds are in a publicly available database and have enormously advanced the study of archaeology and numismatics.

Treasure

The popularity of metal detecting as a hobby has led to an increase in treasure cases from just 79 in 1997 to 1,311 in 2019. In 2017, 96% of finds that were declared treasure were discovered through metal detecting. The culture minister, Caroline Dinenage, said “Each one of these valuable discoveries tells us more about the way our ancestors lived and I want to congratulate all those who played a part in helping uncover more about our shared history.”

Relationship with FLOs

All responsible metal detectorists report finds to the PAS through their FLO. In some cases this is beyond that which they are required to do; for example a single coin. From reading posts on forums and Twitter, many detectorists have a good relationship with their FLOs.

Metal detecting and significant archaeological discoveries

Some recent significant archaeological discoveries are thanks to metal detectorists; for example, the Staffordshire Hoard (artefacts), the Watlington and Lenborough Hoards (coins).

Q4. Is the IOD a cause for concern?

Some hobby metal detectorists see the AOD purely as an elitist group of archaeologists, who ignore the huge contribution that hobby metal detecting has made to preserving our heritage. There are fears that the AOD is intent on restricting the hobby of metal detecting, through increased regulation and is using the IOD to achieve that. The AOD has done nothing to allay those fears.

Alternatively, it could be argued that the IOD will enable metal detectorists to unearth and report finds with a greater understanding of the archaeological impact. This will be done through education and by consent. You might also consider that the IOD will have no impact on the hobby of metal detecting and there is nothing to be concerned about.

Having read the article, do you think the IOD is a cause for concern? Please vote below:

Finding a way forward

The lack of engagement of the AOD with the detecting community is breeding distrust. Surely, the coming together of open-minded parties from both sides would be preferable.

If this is done, I’m sure a way forward, agreeable to both parties could be achieved. The AOD and NCMD should be talking to each other, for the benefit of all.
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Do You agree?x

If the AOD were to properly engage with the detecting community and a Code of Practice were agreed that the NCMD could support, would your views on the IOD change?

Please let me have your comments on any of the above in the comments section below.


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Rob
Rob
10 months ago

Hi this, post worries me as it seems to frame the intentions of Keith Westcott and the creation of an Institute as one man’s bid to ban detecting. The image at the top suggests that there is an effort on the part of Keith Westcott and archaeologists to ban metal detecting as a hobby – that is inaccurate. The fact is that more sites that currently are ‘out of bounds’ will be available through the cooperation of detectorists and archaeologists.
There are obviously questions that need to be answered/clarified which is the case with any new positive idea that attempts to unite people toward a common understanding. Critically evaluating the proposal is different to being critical of the project/proposal or the people who support or don’t support it. What I am really trying to say is that I was a bit dismayed to find that this article is really designed to fire the fears of hobbyists with the intention of creating failure. I cannot comment on the NCMD or the relationship that they have with Mr Westcott but to anyone reading these posts it is clear that he has been smeared and the whole of the project damned as an attempt to restrict and ban people from pursuing their hobby which it quite clearly isn’t. It is an attempt to raise the status of detecting and provide a foundation from which to understand the many other aspects of our culture. Metal detecting is after all immediately associated with metal artefacts, or Metal Material Culture and today modern archaeologists realise not only the importance of the use of detectors and the skill that hobbyists attain, but also the immense body of knowledge that detector users have in various areas and consider them as specialists.
I have read several posts on different websites regarding this and I must say that both sides of the ‘argument’ which it now is, sadly, should be a little more reasonable and better informed when posting their opinions.
With regard to the financial aspect of this – the £50,000 granted by Historic England – if there was any suggestion of foul play it would be thoroughly investigated by HE themselves who require reports regarding the funding decision that they have made and of course companies house as I believe that it is a Community Interest Company which has to account for everything down to the last shekel. There is no attempt to replace or supersede the NCMD, if there was it is very unlikely that they would be invited to join the advisory board. They were invited as they are a respected organisation. It is really sad that someone somewhere mis understood the whole point and as a result the negative fear mongering has blighted the beginning of something good and positive.
Wouldn’t it be the coolest thing if you asked your kids what they did at school today and they answered that they spent their history lesson learning and doing some detecting as part of their research into Romans, Saxon etc ? And that is the point of the IoD. Education and opportunity, not restriction bans and negative personal squabbling based upon an inaccurate understanding what is trying to be achieved. If it were, I personally would not support the initiative. The days of that deep rift between archaeologists and detectorists has passed.
I am a metal detectorist and I am an archaeologist. Today I have been excavating a Roman Fort alongside community volunteers, metal detectorists and a plethora of other interesting positive people. I wouldn’t be an archaeologist if I had not initially been a metal detectorist from the age of 13. Today the director of the dig verbalised his full support for the use of metal detectors and they are also covered in degree level archaeology courses which makes it very clear that the prevailing attitude amongst archaeologists is a positive one.
It will be interesting to see if my post is actually published as I am aware that the debate has become quite heated to the extent that people have been threatened. This just isn’t acceptable at any level especially when we are talking about the use of a scientific device to find objects in the ground!

Paul
Admin
10 months ago
Reply to  Rob

Rob, Thankyou for you detailed and considered post. This was our first article on the IOD. We have subsequently published a second article https://detectingfinds.co.uk/iod-the-hidden-agenda where we detailed Keith Westcott’s real intentions using his own words . I would welcome your views on that article.

dave foster
dave foster
1 year ago
My point here is that any ‘Association’ or ‘Institute’ that seeks to examine in any way whatsoever the hobby of…" Read more »

what has this money been used for are there any accounts open to the public as to where its money has gone/

dave foster
dave foster
1 year ago
My point here is that any ‘Association’ or ‘Institute’ that seeks to examine in any way whatsoever the hobby of…" Read more »

Yes, and as such its aims are suspicious

dave foster
dave foster
1 year ago
My point here is that any ‘Association’ or ‘Institute’ that seeks to examine in any way whatsoever the hobby of…" Read more »

Absolutely agree, as diverse a committee as possible should be the minimum, not a load pack.

andrew jones
andrew jones
1 year ago

Has this man had any Archaeological training , if he has he would realise that most people on a Archaeological dig are volunteers and are not professional people or have had the training they are probably members of there local or county archaeological society and no more , bearing this in mind how can he dictate to Detectorists about there behavior in the field, so to speak when archaeologists sometimes use j c b s to strip back the top soil then ask Detectorists to detect the spoil heaps to find all the metal finds that are missed by the diggers which means that these items cannot be recorded as they are out of context so the history is lost . If he gets his way both Detectorists and archaeologists will both be the poorer for there hobby, s . How Many items does he have recorded with Pas and how many has he kept once recorded ,will he be giving up his collection for the greater good of detecting and the country just a thought .He also forgets to mention that any metal item is a find and will need to be recorded and stored including all the rubbish as well and where will it all be stored as there is no space now and Archaeologists are returning finds to the site where they were found and are re buried so disturbing the site again .

Philip Wills
Philip Wills
1 year ago

After watching this guy on the Big Detecting Show, it was clear to everyone that he is not a detectorist and does not represent or support the detecting community (or archaeologists by the sound of it.) He has just seen an opportunity for a power grab and has self appointed a role and title and conned the government that he is a person of significance. He is not. It appears that he has fraudulently leeched money from the government because he managed to convince them that he represents us by giving himself a title. NCMD and other representatives should make this very clear. No detectorist, organisation or company should lend their support to this man. Stop him before it’s too late and we no longer have our hobby.

Nicholas Kaye
Nicholas Kaye
1 year ago

In his interview on the Big Detecting Show he came over as a wannabee archaeologist. He is focused on the heritage, which as metal detectorists we all are. No mention of the health benefits of detecting. I don’t attend rallies personally and he made it clear there will be restrictions brought in to such events and maybe smaller group digs. It would seem that the members of the advisory board, including several retailers are looking to benefit from their involvement, possibly by providing the training and/or licensing for metal detectorists. Other organisations like The Detector Network and The Big Detecting(archaelogy) Show (very few subscribers) are also looking to benefit from their involvement, possibly as an alternative to the PAS. The NCMD are right to be wary of involvement, it could be seen as legitimising this carve up.

Mr Jp Spain
Mr Jp Spain
1 year ago

This man is an snake oil salesman. It is just another money making scheme, that MUST be stopped.
It will impact the rest of us greatly, and before we know it you will HAVE to pay to do his stupid courses before you can detect. detectorists and the NCMD need to get a grip on this before it bites us all in the behind.

C.Askew
C.Askew
1 year ago
Reply to  Mr Jp Spain

I have detected for 40 years and have been a member of the N.C.M.D since it’s formation.
Over the years l can honestly say that if the officers (past and present) who on the memberships behalf have given up their time voluntarily hadn’t been so vigilant we wouldn’t be enjoying our hobby today.
Why on earth should we want or need any other organisation to look after our interests?

C.Askew