FEARS COMMERCIAL RALLY CO IS USING HER DATA TO TARGET ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

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thePipeLine can reveal that high profile metal detecting rally organiser Mr Charles Lloyd of Shropshire based Sovereign Metal Detecting, appears to be using data derived from public records, including the Shropshire Council Historic Environment Record, in order to target areas of high archaeological potential and then uses that information to attract paying customers with promises of significant finds, including potential treasure such as “golden guineas”. It has long been known the some metal detectorists use many of the same sources as archaeologists to locate sites of interest, for example air photographs and old maps, but it is unusual to be able to demonstrate the use of HER data in support of commercial metal detecting.

The suspicion arises because Mr Lloyd [see thePipeLine passim], has advertised a commercial rally to held this Sunday, [7 November 2021] using technical language, and quotations, which appears to be drawn directly from archaeological reports, potentially even from the Shropshire county Historical Environment Record [HER].

An HER is a publicly accessible archive of information held by local authorities and designed to create the most comprehensive picture possible of the known archaeology at a given location. Comprising anything from the reports of Antiquarians to the most recent excavations by contracting archaeological units working as part of the development process, and including so-called spot finds such as coins and pottery not found as part of an organised excavation, including many finds by metal detectorists, the HER is one of the most important research tools in archaeology.

Given the importance of the Historic Environment Record, the possibility that it might be used to target areas where archaeological material might be removed for individual and commercial gain concerns archaeologists on two counts. First that HER data, which is designed to add detail and context to the archaeological record of a county like Shropshire, might be being used to promote an event which could damage that archaeological record though unmonitored excavation and the failure to report finds, and secondly that the use of HER data for commercial purposes, for example in the development process, is usually subject to charges to help pay for the service.

Mr Lloyd’s event is undoubtedly commercial in nature as he advertises it at a cost of £25 per detector for the day, and there is no mention of, for example, any charitable donation from the takings. While when seen by thePipeLine the posting advertising Sunday’s event had attracted sixty three detectorists, meaning Mr Lloyd stands to make a minimum of £1575, before any costs are settled, such as payment to the landowner.

In common with most metal detecting rallies of this kind, advertising is electronic and accomplished via closed groups on Social Media.

The posts promoting the event, which have been seen by thePipeLine, begin with a breathless teaser of a post by Mr Lloyd stating,

“Extremely important and mind blowing announcement shortly from Bill Burleigh regarding this Sunday’s field!!
Make sure you’re sitting down when you read it.”


Next a post appeared on the closed Sovereign Metal Detecting group page posted under Mr Burleigh’s name and stating,

“So I see Charles is getting himself all worked up over this Sunday’s field and all I did was mention the “S” word, and no, not what you first thought but Saxon.”

Mr Burleigh’s post continued, stating that Mr Lloyd had asked him to undertake specific background research on the rally site,

“He had asked me to do some research on the field and this is some of what I found…”

Mr Burleigh wrote.

The post then presented a list of archaeological features ascribed to various periods, which were present on, or close to, the site of Sunday’s rally, some of which which were described using technical terms, and placed within quotation marks, suggesting they had indeed been copied from a professionally generated source such as an archaeological report or the county HER.

Most significantly we are able to confirm that one quotation in particular, when entered into the on-line database of the Shropshire HER, delivers a single return relating to a known archaeological site, suggesting that the HER is at least one of the sources used by Mr Burleigh for his “research”.

thePipeLine is not publishing the quotations because, while we suspect the information is already available in the public domain if you want to look for it, we do not want to encourage anyone to metal detect on areas of identified archaeological interest and where there may be archaeological features close to the surface. A practice which is discouraged by the Code of Practice For Responsible Metal Detecting which states that when metal detecting detectorists should restrict themselves to,

” 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. If detecting takes place on pasture, be careful to ensure that no damage is done to the archaeological value of the land, including earthworks.”

[Our italics] In his post Mr Burleigh mentions a number of earthworks and suspected archaeological features associated with the site of Sunday’s event and the nearby area. A fact which is also covered by a warning in the Code of Practice.

The Code requires detectorists observing it to,

“Avoid damaging stratified archaeological deposits (that is to say, finds that seem to be in the place where they were deposited in antiquity) and minimise any ground disturbance through the use of suitable tools and by reinstating any ground and turf as neatly as possible.”

With the groundwork laid by Mr Burleigh, Mr Lloyd himself also got in on the promotion, posting excitedly to the same group page,

“Hallelujah! I have finally secured a field that I have been after for nearly three years.”

adding,

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“This Sunday we have over 70 acres of the most promising Saxon/Roman/bronze Age undetected that’s blessed with so much History it beggars belief.”

Of course, the words Saxon, Roman and Bronze Age are trigger words to detectorists, because they are designed to conjure up images of desirable, collectable and even saleable objects, not to mention hoards attracting rewards under the Treasure process.

Mr Lloyd uses the same trigger words in the next paragraph of the post stating that,

“This land sits on a high point above fields that we’ve done in the past were we have found so much Roman/Bronze Age and Celtic.”

Finally Mr Lloyd closes the offer to his paying clients with a comment that,

“As well as the astounding history we have the added bonus that for many years in the past this was a horse trading field which Gold Guineas and sovereigns were traded frequently.”

The implication is clearly that some of those Sovereigns and golden Guineas will have been lost and remain there to be found and make a lucky punters day.

Or perhaps not. Mr Lloyds comment is pure innuendo.

In line with many metal detecting rally organisers, Mr Lloyd does not publish the location of the event until the day, and then only to his paying customers via a closed social media group. This practice is sometimes said to be on account of the risk of illegal detecting ahead of an event.

However, critics of commercial rally companies suggest that the obsessive secrecy is equally likely to be to protect permissions from other companies prepared to gazump an existing permission holder by offering the landowners more cash, and to prevent county archaeologist and bodies like Historic England intervening on heritage grounds to moderate, or even to prevent, events taking place.

While rare, such interventions by heritage regulators to stop rallies do happen.

In September 2019 the location of a proposed rally on an archaeologically sensitive, but unscheduled, site at All Cannings near Devizes in Wiltshire was leaked to the Wiltshire county archaeology team by a concerned metal detectorist.

The Wiltshire County Archaeology Team, the local Finds Liaison Officer and the Wiltshire Museum worked together to intervene with the land owner and organisers, and the rally was cancelled at the last minute.

Of course it is important to add that under current regulations, while frowned upon by the Portable Antiquities Scheme and by many archaeologists and heritage commentators, rallies, such as that Mr Lloyd is promoting this Sunday, remain perfectly legal as long as organisers avoid sites which are actually scheduled, rather than just known through the HER and other sources, which are part of countryside schemes such as stewardship, which have regulations attached, and provided he has the permission of the landowner and tenant if there is one.

It is not even necessary for a rally organiser to be a registered company for tax purposes, or even to provide facilities such as toilets and event insurance, as would be the case for many community events. In fact many metal detecting events save money by relying explicitly on participants holding the personal insurance provided to members of the National Council for Metal Detecting.

This practice and outcome is in stark contrast to an archaeological investigation of the same field, where even a community based project would likely be properly insured, and supervised by professional archaeologists working to a written project design, often developed using the HER.

Crucially the location of all finds would be plotted and they would be properly conserved and kept together in a searchable archive rather than be partially recorded at best, with many artefacts vanishing piecemeal into private collections. Finally archaeological finds would be recorded, analysed, and published with the newly collected data added in turn to enhance the Historic Environment Record.

In the end many archaeologists, and even many detectorists will be uncomfortable that Mr Lloyd, and his fellows at Sovereign Metal Detecting such as Mr Burleigh, appear to be using data from the Historic Environment Record which is designed to help conserve and understand the archaeology in our communities, to target that same archaeology for commercial exploitation by individuals, with no guarantees anything found will be recorded for that same HER, let alone find its way into a publicly accessible archive or museum.

Neither is this first time that Mr Lloyd has been accused of ethically dubious practice in organising a commercial rally.

As recently as May [2021] this website reported that Mr Lloyd had been accused of misrepresenting the advice of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and of being slow to cooperate fully with the local Finds Liaison Officer and coroner over a potential treasure find.

However, the tectonic plates in metal detecting may be shifting to level the playing field where archaeologists and detectorists meet, albeit slowly.

Currently the Government is considering reforms to the definition of treasure in the Treasure Act [1996] to prioritise historical value rather than the content of precious metals. A move which would catch far more artefacts than the present definition and prevent anomalies such as regionally and even nationally important artefacts being lost public collections merely because they contain no precious metals. The so called Crosby Garrett Roman helmet is perhaps the most egregious case of this.

Perhaps with such a revision in mind, a new organisation, the Association of Detectorists, has been founded with seed corn funding from Historic England, and with the aim of fostering an approach to metal detecting which is based on “heritage values”.

Finally and most recently 1 November [2021] saw the launch on You Tube of a glossy new video, fronted by members of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and personalities from the Heritage media such as Dan Snow and Helen Geake, promoting the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Code of Practice for responsible Metal Detecting [a code which incidentally is not endorsed by the largest metal detecting organisation, the National Council for Metal Detecting [NCMD].

Taken together it can be suggested that these three events may indicate that the frog of metal detecting as we know it in England is being slowly boiled, and the days of almost unregulated metal detecting, undertaken by untrained individuals, may be coming to an end.

There may even be some metal detectorists who might accuse Mr Lloyd, and other promoters of unregulated rallies, of exhibiting the kind of greed, unmoderated by responsibility for our shared past, which is giving the heritage regulators a reason to turn up the gas under the pot.

Mr Lloyd of Sovereign Metal Detecting and the Shropshire county archaeology team have been contacted for comment.

We have also provided copies of our source material to the Shropshire county archaeology team and Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire, as we suspect that Mr Lloyd has not liaised with them over his rally.

While not enforceable, guidelines for rally organisers suggest liaising with the local heritage team and FLO at least twelve weeks ahead of any proposed rally in order that they can offer advice and support, and take action if they identify grounds to do so.






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thePipeLine
thePipeLine
thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

1 COMMENT

  1. What really gets me is the lazy archies, sit in their ivory towers just waiting for historical items to come through their doors! Why don’t they get off their a**** and start detecting themselves? They could always designate their finds as a protected site until a full excavation takes place. But that would be too easy!

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