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Thursday, 29 May 2014

How to eradicate "nighthawks" from metal detecting.

They are the burden of every responsible detectorist who tries to go about this hobby in a ethical and controlled way. With morals set as low as a snakes belly it seems nothing will get in the way of their desire to score valuable artefacts and coins whilst tainting the perceived image of anyone else who participates in metal detecting.

Some argue nighthawks are not as big a problem as is made out but from my own experiences of trying to gain a permission to metal detect on farmland, this is not the case.

I have knocked on many of the farmers door within a 10 mile radius of my home and a very high percentage of them say no due to the fact they have allowed a metal detectorist permission to search their land before and within no time random detectorists have seen this and though they could just walk on and detect. Many people think nighthawks only go out at night and detect on scheduled sites, this is not true. A nighthawk is anyone using a metal detector on any land they do not have permission to be on. It doesn't matter if its a scheduled site or arable or pasture, if they have not obtained permission from the landowner they are nighthawks.

Of course there is a lot of arguments and debates about nighthawks with some detectorists claiming that archaeologists are taking part in a smear campaign to make it look like detectorists are up to no good. There is also a lot of talk that most of the unfilled holes are caused by wild animals such as badgers. Whilst any of these reasons could be valid to a certain degree I think there is no doubt that there are a fair few nighthawks contributing to this damage.

So, how do we stop the problem? As I see it there are a few options although as with any type of crime you will never be able to stop it altogether, because if there is easy money to be made someone will always take that chance. This means the only options we really have are instead of trying to completely stop it, we need to make it more difficult for the nighthawks to do what they do.

Obviously as touched on with the last blog post we could start making it harder to buy and sell dug up items with documentation needed, this will slow them down. I think the biggest impact though can be made by all of us metal detectorists, we know what to look out for and we know the signs. It doesn't matter where I am driving I am always looking out onto the fields and land thinking how great it would be to have permission to search there and I often see detectorists. I try to always pull in if I have time and go for a chat to see what has been found and how its going, this is the perfect way to catch out nighthawks because if someone pulls up and starts walking towards them you can be sure they will bolt across the field.

We are the eyes and the ears on the ground and we can make a difference. It is just one thing that we all need to try and stop for the sake of metal detecting as a hobby in the public eye and also to make sure that farmers and landowners can feel comfortable in giving us permission to metal detect on their land.


  1. This has always been an emotive issue and one that has been frequently the subject of many hearsay and anecdotal debates on just what the true level of nighthawking is and the putative damage they do. I would suggest you have a read through the English Heritage report on the subject to get an overview of the topic from all involved parties.

    Nighthawking has to be put in context, without the hearsay and anecdotes, to look at the hard evidence and understand the perceptions and actualities of what nighthawking is. There are many myths and legends on the subject which are frequently used to feed the appetites of those who wish to use this as "evidence" to support various anti detecting agendas. This was the basis for EH to look at the topic and produce a factual researched report , yet after spending a great deal of taxpayers money, it produced very little concrete evidence that would stand up to proper scrutiny. However there were positives that came out of this work such as a greater awareness of how nighthawks were despised by responsible detectorists and their willingness to work with the various enforcement agencies to deal with the issue when and where is appeared.

    By and large from the evidence i have seen over the last thirty odd years, it is not the problem it was in the 80's and early 90's when Scheduled Monuments were the prime target and the enforcement agencies took little interest. However with the current increase in Treasure led programmes produced for a number of TV companies, there is a danger of more people buying a detector on the premise that it is a tool to make them rich. Now reality will kick in for the vast majority with an appreciation that they would be better spending their money on the Lotto. However there will inevitably be a residue that will not bother following the rules, have no respect for others and trespass and cause legitimate detectorists and landowners alike a problem.

    The rise of the nighthawks it has been suggested was as a direct result of various archaeological bodies and individuals using their influence to get local authorities, County Councils, landowners/ large estates and institutional landowners to deny access to all detectorists. This was a part of the STOP Campaign run by the CBA and others in the 1980's and its legacy remains to this day.

    There are also some landowners who are still subscribing to the orders given by a long dead County Archaeologist in 1982 not to let detectorists on their land. I would also suspect the resistance to access that some detectorists report, is caused by landowners using old information as an excuse do deny access whilst others will have been caught up in the hearsay and anecdotal accounts given by other landowners or archaeologists. It is a bit akin to Chinese whispers.

    Greater vigilance is the way to deal with the nighthawks and now the Police have finally decided to tackle them after years of indifference, the writing is on the wall for them. There have been many arrests in recent years and although prosecutions have only resulted in relatively minor criminal convictions, but as the CPS develops a better understanding of how to proceed with such prosecutions and better Police evidence gathering and intelligence led actions develop, it will yield better results. Nighthawks need to be caught in the act as the perpetrators of the Irchester, Northants raids were and dealt with - Google this one and have a read.

    However that said nighthawks thrive where negative access policies operate for legitimate detecting access. The best way to deter these people is to have legitimate searchers on the land unless of course it is protected by various bits of legislation and then it is up to those bodies that control these areas to deal with the issue as they see fit.

    1. Thanks for that comment Steve. A lot of food for thought. I suppose there is the potential for a lot of Chinese whispers with something like night hawking and I guess a few farmers use it as an easy way to turn detectorists down for permission

  2. "It doesn't matter where I am driving I am always looking out onto the fields and land [...] and I often see detectorists. I try to always pull in if I have time and go for a chat to see what has been found and how its going, "
    Unless you only stick to rights of way, walking onto somebody else's property uninvited and unauthorised like that just because you see other detectorists there would be trespass just as much as any putative "nighthawk"

    " a very high percentage of them say no due to the fact they have allowed a metal detectorist permission to search their land before and within no time random detectorists have seen this and though they could just walk on [...]"


    So your going to "chat" with them, if the farmer saw, could ruin their chances of renewing their permission. No?

    1. You know what Paul, your right. I never thought about it like that as daft as it sounds. Thanks for pointing that out

  3. "Steve" wrote of:
    their willingness to work with the various enforcement agencies to deal with the issue when and where is appeared
    but not to work with those who wrote the report, eh? There was an NCMD boycott (this and other reactions are fully documented on my blog for anyone who cares to look it up). That is the main reason information is scarce, the - in their naivety - expected "responsible artefact hunters" to report incidences of criminal activity, but "responsible detectorists" refused to co-operate.

    "Negative access" is when a landowner decides for their own reasons not to allow artefact hunters (or others) onto THEIR land. Putting the "blame" on them for "nighthawking" seems rather an odd approach. Would "Steve" argue that landowners should be inviting strangers onto their land to cut down the number of thieves? That sounds like saying if the banks make loans and credit more easy to obtain, it would cut down the number of bank robberies. Basically "nighthawking" consists of metal detecting by guys who could not care ;less whether they have permission to go on the land. I'd guess that the majority of them are NOT people who first went to landowner X and asked nicely if he could go on those fields and only did so illegally after going through the motions and being refused.

    "Greater vigilance is the way to deal with the nighthawks and now the Police have finally decided to tackle them after years of indifference, the writing is on the wall for them. "
    Really? How many times has Andy Baines or anyone else seen them from the road, but he was first to approach them, not a squad car? There are now probably 10-16000 active detectorists in the UK on a nice sunny spring day many of them will be out tekking at the weekend. How many of them will be approached by a "vigilant" police officer in the course of the weekend's searching? How many police cars are slowly cruising the back lanes, stopping at farm gates to scan the horizon, vigilantly looking for nighthawks instead of policing something else? Perhaps "Steve" thinks it's hundreds, my feeling though is that, rhetoric aside, in reality the UK police only go out when a landowner reports suspicious activity. The way to get the police reaction is for LANDOWNERS to be more vigilant when metal detecting is concerned, and this means warning them and keeping them informed about their rights and obligations.

    Another way to catch them is pay attention to possession of (in practice primarily attempted sale of) artefacts where no authorisation from the specific landowner to take them can be produced.

    I am also a bit puzzled why "Steve" would say that in the case of land "protected by various bits of legislation", it is "up to those bodies that control these areas to deal with the issue as they see fit". That too would be primarily the landowner wouldn't it? What other bodies does he have in mind which "control" scheduled sites and SSSI that can put boots on the ground? What heritage site guards does he have in his area?

  4. I think there are other points to consider in that scenario. Firstly trespass is a civil offence unless there is criminal intent such as using a metal detector without the landowners permission. If the latter took place then it would be covered by the Theft Act 1968 and classed as going equiped to steal. There are also other bits of legislation that cover such criminal intent and acts ,but the detail escapes me at present.
    As such you would not be comitting a criminal act by going to see these people, but may upset the landowner by trespassing. Problem - unless you know that the landowner does not let people detect on his land there is little you can do except assume that they have permission. If it transpires later that this is not the case then a record of dates and details such as car registrations may come in useful for the Police.
    In reality most dayhawkers would not last long as the farming community is well known for its vigilance with respect to strange vehicles and people on fields. Binoculars are a must for all rural dwellers and it would not be long before someone spotted them and took action though these days they do seem to be more bothered by hare coursers and certain unmarked white vans occupied by suspicious looking characters!!!

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Steve after taking a minute to read your comment I decided to delete it. I understand everyone is very passionate about what they believe in but I don't want to let this blog fall into choas again with personal attacks, thanks for your contributions which are always of a high standard

  6. I did not realise that i made any personal attack. I only related an observation made by others who are in the same profession as Paul. Still it is your blog and you have the ultimate sanction on what is added to it which i consider a good safeguard.

    Now as i have a bit more time i can answer some of the misinterpretations which have been made from my earlier post. I will add them here as i have no intention of responding on Pauls blog and so once readers of his blog follow the links to yours they will have all the information to hand to make up their own minds on issues comments and topics aired.
    I have no idea where the comment with respect to the NCMD boycott came from as I understand from discussions with one of the authors of the report, that two NCMD Officers attended all Steering Group meetings and contributed to the final report so I am lost on that one.

    With respect to negative access I merely made an observation suggested by others elsewhere that the best way to deal with hawkers is not to give them any material to steal by allowing proper organised searchers of the land at optimum times such as after drilling. That is of course a landowner’s choice and they may prefer to let the theft continue, but common sense would suggest otherwise as it is their property they are losing. There is no intent to allow strangers of unknown credentials, but to do as some County Archaeologists do now, and use responsible detectorists to counter the deprivation caused by the nighthawks. It would seem that Paul is happy to let the nighthawks roam free and do nothing about it in a practical way as has been shown to work very effectively elsewhere.

    I can confirm after many conversations with the Police that they do check out detectorists seen on fields. Usually this is the local Officer who will know if landowners have given permission to searchers as they probably drink with the landowners in the local pub. They normally check out vehicle details and then take it from there. However as I have said previously it cannot automatically be assumed that someone detecting in a field does not have permission to be there. At night is a totally different matter and that is usually when the Police take an interest. Paul's take on these issues seems to be to assume every detectorist is illegal until proved otherwise - what a narrow minded view that is.
    There have been several prosecutions in the last few years and the expertise in doing so gets better each time, but for confidential reasons I cannot go into further detail on that. I can only assume that by residing in Poland Paul is somewhat out of the loop with respect to policing issues and illicit metal detecting in the UK - I am not.

    Now the case of land protected by one or other statutory designation- Natural England and English Heritage are the main ones and have enforcement powers to deal with damage done to such sites. That was the intent of my comment.
    It has been suggested elswhere for example, that some agencies would rather not pre-emtively tackle nighthawking activity on ploughed SM because it would cost too much money to do so. There would be a requirement for a method statement to be drawn up and then ongoing staff costs for plotting finds and curation as well as publications all costing money that they do not have.

    Now another comment Paul made on his blog this time was the selective use of my initial comment on the rise of nighthawking. Now the phrase I used was “it has been suggested” meaning that it was not my thoughts, but those of others merely added to the mix of comments by way of illustration.
    I will sit back in my slit trench with tin hat on and await the incoming !!!!

    I have no intention of adding comment as to Paul's various speculation on who i am though i will confess to using my middle name to post and protect the innocent .I will come clean and tell you all my first name is Ron.

  7. Hi Ron

    Glad you are back, apparently you are a sock puppet and your statements are a distraction according to the gospel of Paul, mind you that's just Pauls way of saying your views are not valid so are not to be believed, he seems to do that often to anyone who has a different view than to his own

    As to policing Paul may wish to check the pro-active policing policy in rural areas, the main concerns are farm thefts, poaching but heritage crimes do come under their remit as well.


  8. Thanks - Yes the sock puppet bears no resemblance i am afraid though if you made the hair and beard grey it would be a dead ringer for Paul after seeing his photo taken when he gave a lecture in Suffolk some years back.
    I am not going to feed the flames any more on this topic as Paul and i will have to agree to disagree on many issues as always. However when the need arises and a suitable topic comes up i will add uncomfortable comment for readers information and for him to digest.
    Now he has read my comments from earlier and i am now Ron-Steve on his blog, which does sound rather posh.
    Let me confuse him a bit more and say i got the name wrong yet again - must be all that beer archaeologists are supposed to drink ( indeed if i am a member of that profession as Paul suggests)- my real name is Spartacus !!!

  9. I know I said I would not add any further comment to the above , but I feel I must share with you all that my work colleagues and I had a good laugh at Paul's blog comments today. Seems the penny has not yet dropped that I am taking the micky as well as making serious comment!! Happy days.

  10. @ R.S. Spartacus: I think most of us might have some problems putting ‘taking the mick’ and ‘making a serious comment’ together in the context of these shape-shifting identities.

    There are three issues here. First is what this is doing to the image of metal detecting. My blog comments are there for people to read, obviously. I have commented on what has been said by “Steve” here, taking it all in good faith as an expression of opinion. I suspect the majority of my more serious readers will not get the point of Steve-Ron-Spartcacus’ private little jokes, reading my assessment of his comments they will probably be unaware that the comments to which I am replying were intended by their anonymous author as some kind of irresponsible puerile provocation. They will form their judgement of supporters of metal detecting accordingly. Make up your own minds whether that is good for the image of the hobby or not.

    Secondly, collectors complain that, outside the PAS, very few UK heritage professionals will give any time to discussing things with them. It can be seen at a glance, despite its avowed aim to promote “responsible attitudes”, how many archaeologists this blog has attracted as commentators and partners in discussion in the past three months. Obviously nobody is going to come to try and discuss things sensibly here (or anywhere) if all they get for their troubles is malicious communications, insults and endemic mickey-taking from Andy’s legion of anonymous and identity-shifting commentators attempting to sabotage Mr Baines' efforts.

    Thirdly, if Andy Baines put up a post called “some funny things about nighthawks” or “Mickey takes about illegal artefact hunting”, perhaps such puerile behaviour would be understandable. I assume his intent was to get a discussion going here about a serious issue. If the only response it gets is anonymous name-shifting sock-puppets taking the mickey out of anyone who actually attempts to join in here, I suggest that such a discussion is not going to get far and people will stop reading this blog. I suggest this sort of underhand and malicious behaviour is above all extremely disrespectful to the blog owner and his efforts to try to start a sensible discussion, if nothing else, and trespasses on his good will in trying to start a sensible discussion.

    I write under my own name, Andy Baines under his, Nigel Swift under his and we all get insulted by the likes of “Steve” and others for our pains. If Mr “Steve” has anything worth saying (apart from his mickey-taking and the above-mentioned putative personal attack) then surely he should have the guts to do it under his real name. It is irresponsible behaviour like this, too, that gets metal detectorists a bad name and create so much bad feeling instead of encouraging dialogue on the issues that matter. But then, I rather think that is why some metal detectorist sock-puppets do what they do. No?

  11. As i said i intend to make no further comments on this issue and see them quoted out of context or selectively used to further whatever campaigns you have on the go at present. And no - no matter what you try and say, derogatory or personal on your own blog about me , i have no intention of being provoked into providing the details you seek as to my identity. I am sure the casual reader of your Blog and the comments written here will be able to make up their own minds as to why i chose to do that.

  12. For those who bother to follow Paul Barford's blog will see that he is in a "having a go " mode with me as the target, which is exactly the reason why i made my earlier comments in response to his taunts and provocations. I am sure you will all understand why i do not wish to let him know who i am. Can you imagine the insults that would follow on from that once he had an actual name to go for.
    Well tough luck Paul as i am not biting.

  13. Pauls bigotry has also come to the fore, where in a recent headline he refers to the entire Welsh nation as yokels!

    A disgraceful headline from a supposed 'intellectual'.

  14. Yes he did go for it in a big way. He is opinionated as always and quick to condemn without quarter. Useful traits to have as an intellectual.

  15. No, not all Welsh, just the yokels. Read it again. Somebody who lives actually ON Offa's Dyke and doesn't know it is there, is what, exactly for you? In the same league?

    I submit that it's not bigotry, it's calling a spade a spade.

    Steve-Ron-Spartacus (above) really overestimates his own importance, I mention him on my blog only as yet another example of the sort of anonymous sock-puppet who try to derail any kind of discussion by irresponsible provocation - precisely like the anonymous comment above. That is why I use his example as a case study to create a picture of what detectorists are like and what they are up to. My readers can make up their own mind what they think of the picture I paint and all this smoke-and-mirrors stuff from the pro-detecting lobby. It may well increase their distrust of the lot of you.

    "Anonymous" If you want to call me names (without apostrophes) on Andy Baines blog, why not have the guts to put your own name under it? Are you, like the mickey-taking Steve-Ron-Spartacus afraid I will answer you by name? Why does the blog owner not insist that if you are going to use their blog to insult other people, you do so under your own name?

    Paul (real name) Barford

  16. I have been waiting for Paul to reply to all the comments as I thought it was only fair everyone has their say. I will no longer be taking comments on this post in fear of it going completely down the gutter.

    Thanks to everyone who took time to comment.


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