Metal detecting on our land

George III coins

We don’t allow metal detecting on our land unless it is part of a clearly-defined archaeological project. Our metal detecting policy, and the conditions under which we might grant an Archaeological Research Agreement, are explained here.

These conditions apply to all Trust land, including beaches.

Metal detecting is a popular hobby that can help increase our understanding of the past. We work with metal detecting clubs and individuals on research projects that can help us unearth finds on our properties for future generations to appreciate and to increase our understanding of the places we look after.

To make sure metal detecting is carried out in a safe and responsible way we do not grant ‘metal detecting licences’. We only allow metal detecting as part of a clearly-defined archaeological project supported by a Research Design which sets out, among other things, the research aims of the work and arrangements for the recording, conservation and archiving of any finds. Once the Research Design is agreed, the Trust will issue an Archaeological Research Agreement.

Our metal detecting policies help protect our heritage for everyone
Sunset over the burial mounds at Sutton Hoo, Sussex
Our metal detecting policies help protect our heritage for everyone

These conditions apply to everyone, whether they are members of metal detecting clubs, amateur archaeologists, students, academics, professional archaeological companies or private individuals. We take this approach as we believe it is the best way to continue to look after the special places in our care.

We know most metal detectorists have a genuine interest in history and archaeology, and take care to report their finds, but we need to guard against finds being removed without proper recording or archaeological supervision. All Trust land has archaeological potential and has been entrusted to our care for the benefit of everyone – when finds are taken out of context we lose a piece of the jigsaw, making it harder for us to care for our archaeology and tell the stories of our places.

Archaeological Research Agreements

These are written agreements between the National Trust and metal detectorists or other archaeological researchers that give permission to metal detect on Trust land as part of a research project. We do not allow any metal detecting on our land without an Archaeological Research Agreement, even where it’s under the plough. To obtain an Agreement, applicants must work with a National Trust Archaeologist to produce their Research Design. 

Under exceptional circumstances we might allow metal detecting as part of non-archaeological activities, for example to locate underground services or for the recovery of lost personal objects. Whatever the reason for the work, however, detecting must always be under the supervision of a Trust Archaeologist.

Only a National Trust Archaeologist can issue an Archaeological Research Agreement. Other members of National Trust staff, tenants and farmers are not authorised to give permission to metal detect on Trust land.

Please note that in Northern Ireland, as well as meeting the above requirements, applicants would also need to obtain a licence to excavate from the Historic Environment Division, Department for Communities. Holding this licence, however, does not guarantee the Trust would subsequently grant an Archaeological Research Agreement.

For metal detecting on Scheduled Monuments, as well as an Archaeological Research Agreement a Section 42 Licence would also be required from Historic England, or Cadw in Wales. To metal detect on a Scheduled Monument without a Section 42 Licence is a criminal offence.

Finds and treasure

All finds, with the exception of ‘treasure’, remain the property of the National Trust. Under the Treasure Act 1996 anything that might be considered ‘treasure’ must be reported to the local Coroner or Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) Finds Liaison Officer (FLO) within 14 days. 

What happens if I metal detect without an Archaeological Research Agreement?

You will be asked to leave the property and we will take action to reclaim any finds made on Trust land. We will report unauthorised metal detecting on Scheduled Monuments to the police. 

Further information

We will always consider genuine research proposals, so if you have a specific project in mind and would like to discuss the details of your Research Design, let us know where you want to do the work and we can put you in touch with the appropriate regional Archaeologist.

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