Nighthawking Report

New Survey Reveals Low Levels of Prosecution and Crime Reporting

A survey commissioned by English Heritage and supported by its counterparts across the UK and Crown Dependencies has revealed that the threat to heritage posed by illegal metal detecting, or nighthawking, is high but arrest or prosecution remains at an all time low and penalties are woefully insufficient.

The Nighthawking Survey, published today (16th February 2009), found out that over a third of sites attacked by illegal metal detectorists between 1995 and 2008 are Scheduled Monuments and another 152 undesignated sites are also known to have been raided, but secrecy surrounding the crime means that it is significantly under-reported. Only 26 cases have resulted in formal legal action, with the punishment usually being a small fine from as little as £38. (Illegally parking a car carries a £120 fine.)

The crime is most prevalent in the central and eastern counties but rare in the west and south-west and almost unheard of in Northern Ireland and the Crown Dependencies. Counties where the highest incidences of nighthawking have been reported are (in descending order): Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Kent, Oxfordshire, and the Yorkshire region. ‘Honey pot’ sites such as Roman sites are often targeted repeatedly and the period after ploughing is the most common time, with considerable damage caused to crops and fields.

Illegal metal detecting is the search and removal of antiquities from the ground using metal detectors without the permission of the landowners or on prohibited land such as Scheduled Monuments. It is a form of theft and can be prosecuted under the Theft Act.

The heart of the problem lies in the vicious circle of under-reporting of the crime, which in turn creates a false picture of the seriousness of the situation, making this a low priority crime for the police. It is also compounded by the difficulty in collecting evidence.

Over time, the lack of successful prosecution has led to the lack of confidence of the victims in the legal process. The survey found out that only 14% of landowners, when afflicted by nighthawking, have reported it to the police. Most of them responded by tackling the culprits themselves or imposing a complete ban on metal detecting on their land.

The survey also calls for the setting up of a central database of reported nighthawking incidents and a tightening of the Treasure Act requiring all who come into contact with treasure finds, not just the finder, to report them. Full details of the survey including its recommendations are downloadable from

Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe, Interim Chairman of English Heritage, said: “Responsible metal detecting provides a valuable record of history, but illegal activities bring responsible ones into disrepute.

“Nighthawkers, by hoarding the finds or selling them on without recording or provenance, are thieves of valuable archaeological knowledge that belongs to us all. Even in the case when the finds are retrieved, the context of how and where exactly the finds were found has been lost, significantly diminishing their historical value. In the cases of internationally important material the loss of the unique evidence that these objects provide on our common history and origins is especially poignant. By establishing a clearer picture of the crime, this survey will help us to combat it more effectively.”

Read more here from teh Guardian:,,-8360073,00.html

The suvey:

The report should be here:



Filed under Archaeology News, BAJR Talk

3 responses to “Nighthawking Report

  1. Pingback: Nighthawking report out « The Assemblage

  2. The ‘Nighthawking Survey’ commissioned by English Heritage

    You may recently have received or read the report resulting from the so-called ‘Nighthawking Survey’, originally proposed by the PAS, and carried out by Oxford Archaeology for English Heritage. The report contains statements relating to the UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) that are factually incorrect, or misleading by virtue of the omission of pertinent information. No member of the UKDFD recording scheme was consulted at any time regarding the statements, and relevant information, readily available on the UKDFD website, would appear to have been completely disregarded. Such elementary failures to make adequate enquiries before drawing conclusions inevitably raise doubts about the validity of the report’s findings in respect of its specific investigation remit.

    The statements concerned are contained within clause 3.2.20 of the report, and each is addressed below.

    1. The report states that the UKDFD “.only records the location of finds to parish level.”

    The statement is incorrect. The UKDFD provides for the recording of finds to the highest level of accuracy that a recorder is willing or able to provide.
    Recording to parish level is merely the minimum level of accuracy required for material to be eligible.

    2. The report states that the UKDFD “.does not pass information onto HERs and is therefore of limited value to archaeological research and management.”

    The statement is entirely lacking in balance, and appears contrived to portray the UKDFD in a negative manner. In particular, it fails to mention the fact that, prior to its launch, the UKDFD offered a facility to transfer records directly to the PAS database. In fact, during the UKDFD development phase, a considerable amount of time was spent making such a transfer of records technically viable. Had the PAS not chosen to decline this offer, UKDFD records would automatically have been passed to the HERs.

    Furthermore, having declined the invitation – a move that some might reasonably regard as irresponsible – the PAS (along with bodies that seek to restrict the metal-detecting hobby) introduced a Code of Practice, which, by implication, brands those detectorists who record with the UKDFD as irresponsible.

    3. The report states that “Some believe that the PAS database and the information that is passed to the HERs is used to further restrict the land available for detecting, others believe (erroneously) that the PAS does not record post-medieval finds. The UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) was therefore set up by detectorists as an alternative to the PAS.”

    The mission statement of the UKDFD clearly sets out its aims, which are considerably more wide-ranging than the final sentence of this statement concludes. The concerns that detectorists have regarding restrictions being placed on their hobby are also far wider than the statement implies.

    Gary Brun

    UKDFD Administrator

  3. My friend on Facebook shared this link with me and I’m not dissapointed at all that I came to your blog.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s