The fate of a proposed metal detecting rally, due to be held this Sunday [18 October 2020] close to the site of a scheduled Roman villa near Shrewsbury on the Welsh border, hangs in the balance. It is feared that the privately organised rally, which is being promoted by Mr Charles Lloyd of the so called Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys and which was not discussed in advance with the Shropshire Council Historic Environment Team, may be unlawful under the Coronovirus Act 2020. If it is found to be unlawful by the Police, both the organisers and those attending could be liable potentially to substantial fines and fixed penalty notices.
Promoting the event on Facebook Mr Lloyd stated that he felt privileged to have obtained exclusive access to a seven hundred acre arable farm near Shrewsbury. In particular, in what appears to be a statement designed to attract interest by highlighting the prospect of Roman period finds, Mr Lloyd claimed that the site to be detected this Sunday is within a quarter of a mile of a Roman villa site excavated first in the 18th century and subsequently in the 20th century.
Publicity from Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys for Sunday’s rally in Shropshire.
[Via Facebook, Fair Use for the Purpose of Reporting]
thePipeLine understands from an associate of Mr Lloyd that the villa site is scheduled as an ancient monument.
However, asked if Mr Lloyd, or anyone else representing Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys, had consulted the local authority heritage officers, as is set out in the voluntary Guidelines for the Organisers of Metal Detecting Rallies, the Natural & Historic Environment Manager for Shropshire Council, Dr Andy Wigley, told thePipeLine,
“I can confirm that no one in my team has been contacted by the organisers of this event, and we have not therefore had an opportunity to provide them with any advice regarding the proposed rally.”
Dr Wigley added that in terms of metal detecting rallies in general, the HER team co-ordinate on a regular basis with the area PAS [Portable Antiquities Scheme] Finds Liaison Officer, Peter Reavill, regarding these events.
Referring to Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys, Dr Wigley commented,
“I understand this particular organisation is known to him [Peter Reavill] but do not co-operate with him.”
“Working with Peter, we have sought to discourage detecting rallies in the past, including seeking advice from Historic England’s lead Heritage Crime Advisor, but unfortunately there are no direct statutory powers available to us to prevent or curtail detecting rallies where they are taking place with the consent of the land owner and not on designated sites.”
Neither can local Historic Environment Teams and PAS officers enforce the latest Government Guidance “Searching for Archaeological Finds in England during Covid-19“.
This states that especially during the Covid emergency, finders and event organisers should avoid metal-detecting on ground that has not been recently disturbed to avoid damaging in situ archaeology (such as a previously undisturbed hoard or human burial).”
The reason for this advice is the potential difficulty in obtaining archaeological support if a major or sensitive find, such as a hoard or human remains, is located.
The farm where Sunday’s rally is due to take place is described by the organiser as “untouched arable” which has not been previously detected and this places the rally in apparent contradiction of both the Government covid advice and the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting which states that being responsible means,
“Working on ground that has already been disturbed (such as ploughed land or that which has formerly been ploughed), and only within the depth of ploughing.”
The guidelines for the organisers of metal detecting rallies suggest it is especially important for there to be liaison between organisers and local historic environment officers when there is known or scheduled archaeology on or close to a rally location so that maps indicating areas it is safe to detect and no go areas can be agreed and marked out for participants so that they avoid detecting illegally.
Mr Lloyd initially invited up to forty “connoisseurs” to take part in the privately organised rally. However, subsequent posts increased the number of potential attendees to more than sixty, thus increasing the chance of locating important archaeology, especially as the rally is to take place on land close to a known Roman villa which, while the villa site itself may be avoided, may well be associated with other Roman buildings and even burials, not to mention archaeology of other periods.
The publicity states that the event is due to cost £25 per detector meaning that, even if only the initial forty detectorists attend, the event will still raise £1000. In most cases such fees are split between the rally organiser and the landowner. Some rally organisers claim to make donations from the proceeds of rallies to charity. However, no such claims appear to have been made in this case.
Dr Wigley’s comments also point up the problems faced by county archaeologists and the Portable Antiquities Scheme when metal detectorists, as is their right under current legislation, decline to cooperate with them. However, the potential loss of archaeology is perhaps the lesser of the issues posed by Sunday’s proposed rally in Shropshire.
With large parts of the United Kingdom falling under increasingly stringent rules to try to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus and the introduction of the three tier system of classifying lockdown rules by the Government just this week, it is concerning that, until this morning, [Saturday] the day before the event, none of the publicity seen by thePipeLine and our partners at We Dig Heritage, referring to this Sunday’s rally, made any mention of the measures required to be put in place to protect people attending the rally from the coronavirus.
This is significant because even authorised events must provide a Covid safe environment, including, for example, a full risk assessment, hand sanitising stations, one way systems and socially distanced car parking, as well as putting in place robust provision to track and trace participants and strict adherence to the “Rule of Six” and the non mixing of households.
Even so called “private” events are not exempt from these requirements and may be shut down if deemed not compliant as can be seen in the case of, for example, wedding receptions, funerals and wakes.
Perhaps somewhat belatedly the organiser has however now put in place generic rules about the use of hand sanitiser and face coverings and the placing of the event fee in a sealed envelope labelled with the attendees name address and contact phone number for track and trace. They also claim to have a Covid Risk Assessment which will be available for attendees to read [although this has not been published yet].
Even so adding to the concern over the rally, thePipeLine can also confirm that of detectorists declaring they are going to attend on Sunday a number appear to come from areas with high rates of Covid-19 infection.
This includes would be attendees from Wales where the Welsh Government advises against unnecessary travel and from the Liverpool and Greater Manchester areas which either are, or are about to be, subject to the most severe, Tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions.
These restrictions include Government guidance not to travel into, or out of, a Tier 3 area.
Perhaps with that in mind, and twenty four hours after we began asking questions about the rally including about Covid safety, this morning [Saturday] the organiser added an instruction to the event Facebook page that anyone living in a Tier 3 Covid area should not attend the rally. It follows that anyone travelling to the rally from such an area will be doing so in defiance of Government guidance and the instructions of the organiser. However, it is not clear how the organiser would enforce their instruction. Particularly as the Covid precautions as a whole appear to be somewhat of an afterthought.
It should be added also that none of these precautions deal with the most significant potential issue. That of the sheer number of people who might be attending a single event.
thePipeLine supplied West Mercia Police with a copy of the event publicity, including the number stating they were going to the event and asked whether the proposed rally was permissible under the Coronavirus Act?
A spokesperson for West Mercia Police appeared to confirm that the event could be illegal under Covid -19 regulations, telling thePipeLine,
“The current COVID-19 regulations prevent gatherings of more than six people both indoors and outdoors.”
At the time of writing more than sixty people have indicated that they might attend the Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys event.
The police spokesperson then added that under the Coronavirus Act 2020 the penalties for organising such unauthorised gatherings could be severe.
“The organisers of large gatherings should be reminded they could face a £10,000 fine and those attending could receive a fixed penalty notice.”
The current fixed penalty notice for attending an unauthorised event is £200 [£100 if it is paid within 14 days].
Exemptions are available under the Covid regulations for events organised by businesses and charities. However, although there are claims to the contrary, there is no published evidence currently that Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys has sought such an exemption, or is even eligible for one.
An unauthorised rally, organised by the Pink Wellies metal detecting group, was closed down on 4 October by Hertfordshire Police.
In an e-mail Mr Simon Moyle, who is described on the website of another entity called Sovereign Metal Detecting Holidays as a “good friend and now business partner” of Mr Lloyd, told our investigation that, while Sovereign Metal Detecting Holidays had no connection with Sunday’s proposed event and that to suggest a connection was “ridiculous”,
“He [Mr Lloyd] is holding a rally on land which is perfectly fine to hold a rally. It’s not a scheduled site. In fact it’s 3/4 of a mile from the scheduled site. He also has a Covid risk assessment and is adhering to the guidelines set out.”
Mr Moyle added,
“As far as West Mercia Constabulary are concerned they are aware of Mr Lloyds activities and are perfectly happy with what he is doing.”
However, he offered no proof of this assertion and it can be noted that the Pink Wellies group also claimed in advance that their event was authorised by the authorities when it was in fact shut down by the Police.
Mr Moyle concluded,
“There are also many events taking place this weekend. Why are you targeting this event?”
Mr Moyle also observed that the National Council for Metal Detectorists [NCMD] had not issued guidance related to the the new national Tiers and
“Therefore Charles can still operate as he is as we are not Tier 3.”
The NCMD did however issue guidance to its members on 16 September 2020 which states that the Government guidance must be followed and, in particular [our italics],
“Event organisers must be covid secure and comply with track and trace legislation and the other event regulations, including liaising with local authorities, etc.”
As seen above, Shropshire County Council, or at least one of the departments most directly concerned, Natural and Historic Environment, appear not to have known about this event until thePipeLine approached them for comment.
A spokesperson for Shropshire Council has subsequently confirmed that while the council asks that event organisers get in touch with them well in advance to discuss the risk assessment and Covid controls the council as a whole did not receive any prior notification from the organiser of the Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys event.
The spokesperson added that they are always available to offer advice to event holders. However in this case,
“Attempts to contact the event organiser have so far proved unsuccessful.”
The spokesperson emphasised that the responsibility for the controls lies strictly with the event organiser.
thePipeLine has approached West Mercia Police to ask again if they are aware of the event and have confirmed to the organiser that it can take place as advertised as the organiser claims. We await their response.
However, even if the rally does turn out to be allowable under the Coronavirus Act the question would remain that, while it might be legal, is it responsible to put metal detecting for artefacts over the risk to the health of people coming from a wide area, including those coming from areas with the high Coronavirus infection rates and where restrictions on travel are advised?
In those circumstances any metal detecting rally would be at risk of becoming, so called, superspreader event with severe consequences for the individuals affected and perhaps also for the reputation of metal detecting as a legitimate hobby?
This article is the result of a joint investigation by thePipeLine and WeDigHeritage
UPDATED at 15.54 on 17-10 2020 to include the response of Shropshire Council on the Public Health aspect of the story.