Nighthawkers continue to threaten Suffolk’s heritage
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Illegal treasure hunting is threatening Suffolk’s heritage and could lead to the loss of important historical artefacts, it is feared.
Illegal metal detectorists, known as nighthawkers, operate on land without the owner's permission under cover of darkness.
Suffolk is targeted by nighthawkers due to its rich Anglo-Saxon heritage and large areas of arable land, and now the county's rural crime team have raised concerns about the serious damage they could be causing.
As objects discovered are stolen property, nighthawkers are unlikely to report finds - which leads to valuable historic data being lost for good.
The hobby has seen a boom in recent years, but lawful detectorists are seeing their reputation ruined by nighthawkers, who target remote, historically rich areas of the county.
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Sergeant Brian Calver, of Suffolk police's rural crime team, said the practice often goes under-reported.
"It's really difficult to quantify, it's one of those issues that people mention and say 'Oh yeah, I've seen it', but very few people report it," he said.
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"Some of it takes place near ancient and scheduled monuments where there's no way they're going to get permission.
"But most of the illegal metal detectoring is done on farmland because the soil gets turned and it exposes some of the treasure that's out there still.
"There's so many areas of Suffolk, if you look at the some of the really ancient maps, that have got so much history, old temples, Roman settlements etc. These people do their research and know where these areas are."
Before a metal detectorist can search for treasure, they must obtain permission from the landowner and the tenant.
Any treasure discovered is the property of the landowner, so most get permission in writing and an agreement regarding any finds before detecting begins.
Sgt Calver added that the crime threatens the county's heritage and can see landowners left thousands of pounds out of pocket.
"It's the heritage more than anything," he said. "Every now and again, you get big things turn up and if you don't register it, that history can be lost forever.
"There's also the financial side, some of the smaller pieces found can be worth thousands of pounds so you've got the loss to the landowner."
"For the people who do it lawfully with the permission of the landowner, it's a case of going 50/50 or 60/40 and whatever is found they get their cut, which is understandable."
Anyone who knows of any illegal metal detecting can call the police on 101.