'Nighthawk' metal detectorists in police sights

PUBLISHED: 05:30 31 December 2018 | UPDATED: 10:13 31 December 2018

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Illegal treasure hunters are "destroying Suffolk's history and heritage", according to the county's rural crime team.

The hobby has seen a boom in interest over the last few years, due to the area’s rich Anglo Saxon history and the success of hit BBC show the Detectorists, starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones.

However, the pasttime is being ruined for many legitimate detectorists by illegal treasure hunters - known as ‘nighthawkers’ - who descend on farmland without the landowners’ permission in the hunt for buried gold.

Sgt Brian Calver, of Suffolk’s Rural and Wildlife Crime Team, said nighthawking has been a problem in the county for years.

He said: “Certain farmers suffer it because locations with historic running routes will provide the most artefacts.

“We see a spike in reports when the harvests are over and the fields have been ploughed.

“It can disturb some of the stuff underneath and make it more detectable.
“We have also had a few reports where archaeological digs have been targeted. That could potentially ruin important historical artefacts. They are destroying our history and heritage at the end of the day.”

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.

Illegal detectorists bypass this in the hope of taking away items without the landowner knowing.

Sgt Calver said the main issue with tackling the problem is that it is a hugely under-reported crime - the public often think the police would not be able to find the culprits, but Sgt Calver said the team’s new technology means they can search a field in a matter of minutes.

“We now have thermal-imaging cameras we take out with us that can scan a long way,” he said.

“In the past we would be searching areas on foot, looking for vehicles used by illegal detectorists.

“But we can now get there and scan a field in seconds.
“I have a warning to people - we are out there and will find you.”

If you know of any illegal metal detecting taking place, call the Rural Crime Team on 101 or email

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