Farmer fears treasure hunters are threat

A SUFFOLK farmer is leading calls for a new law to punish unscrupulous metal detector enthusiasts who he claims are “ripping apart” England's heritage for their own personal gain.

Jonathan Schofield

A SUFFOLK farmer is leading calls for a new law to punish unscrupulous metal detector enthusiasts who he claims are “ripping apart” England's heritage for their own personal gain.

John Browning, who owns farmland covering a former Roman settlement in Icklingham, has been targeted by illegal treasure hunters - known as Nighthawkers - countless times during the past 30 years.

His frustration at what he describes as paltry fines and weak court action against offenders has forced him to take his cause to Westminster.


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Mr Browning said: “These so called metal detectors are ripping apart the fabric of our heritage. Not all of them are acting illegally but the number that do is rising and not only is this trespassing and theft, we are losing items that are crucial to understanding our past. We need laws to reflect the seriousness of this.

“Heritage crime does not exist as a distinct offence in this country and I have been meeting with an all party parliamentary archaeology group to urge them to introduce the crime of 'metal detecting without consent' which I hope will include a suitable penalty for those that break it.”

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In a single night in 2007 more than 200 holes were dug on Mr Browning's land causing massive damage to a crop that had just been planted.

According to a recent report by English Heritage incidents of Nighthawking affect East Anglia - particularly Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex - more than any other part of the country.

The report stated that punishments imposed on offenders was less today than it was ten years ago and the organisation is now recommending a central database on reported incidents.

The report says: “With no consistent central record, the problem of Nighthawking will never be understood or tackled effectively.”

Faye Minter, Suffolk County Council's recording officer, said she was concerned about any illicit detecting as it led to the destruction of archaeological information and prevented an accurate picture of the county's past being established.

She said: “Many people using metal detectors do not know the law. In England every piece of land belongs to someone and you need to get permission from the landowner.”

For more information and a code of practise for metal detecting go to www.finds.org.uk.

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