Denmark has an excellent system in place to enable and govern a responsible and constructive metal detector hobby. While the UK’s ploughsoil heritage is largely being trashed by nighthawks (despite the valuable efforts of the Portable Antiquities Scheme) and Sweden’s is left to corrode untouched out in the fields, the Danes organise metal detector festivals, inviting skilled amateurs and professionals alike! One is taking place at Halsted on Lolland between 3 and 5 April. The public is welcome to watch on Saturday the 4th. Rest assured that the international crew of 70 detector-wielding participants will re-write the area’s history and later prehistory in those scant three days.
Thanks to Tobias for the press clipping.
Update same day: A few commenters feel that I’ve overstated the problem with nighthawking, i.e. clandestine metal detecting, in the UK. I based my assertion on an article on page 5 of the April issue of Current Archaeology (#229), which reports on a recent investigation by English Heritage:
“The survey found that nighthawking was rife on scheduled ancient monuments and ‘honey pot’ sites (mainly Roman settlements and villas) that have been targeted repeatedly, with considerable damage to crops and fields, as well as to archaeology.” There is “… a 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.”
Update 26 March: For some perspective on whether the UK nighthawk problem is serious or not, see these links provided by Aard regular Jonathan.
Regardless of the nighthawks, of course the UK has major legislative problems in this area. Landowners own all finds (!) and the archaic “treasure trove” law presupposes an interpretation by the county coroner of why each individual find was buried back in the day. (Did I get it right now, Jon?)