Table of Contents
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.
In this article, I have set out the background and consequences of that decision and pose four questions:
- Should the NCMD participate on the Advisory Board?
- Is the Association of Detectorists a competent body to run an Institute of Detectorists?
- Could the Institute of Detectorists be used as a vehicle to restrict the hobby of metal detecting?
- Is the Institute of Detectorists a cause for concern?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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).
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
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?
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].
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.
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.
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 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.