You can’t catch rabbits with a dead ferret…

…In much the same was as stupidity loses battles; all a simpleton needs is a smaller, weaker force than the enemy. But it takes an exceptional talent to lose a battle when you out-number the enemy; hold all the cards, and dominate the (moral) high ground.

The UK’s Metal Detecting community is in a commanding position. Not only does it outnumber amateur archaeology by estimates of up to three-to-one, it also enjoys public support because of its fabulous catalogue of headline-grabbing finds. Yet, a malevolent, dictatorial minority, lords it over the detecting majority whenever it can.

These ‘nabobs of nepotism’ even have the brass neck to tell Detectorists that being ‘responsible’ means adhering to a Code of Conduct they’ve dreamed up. What sheer bloody, arrogance. Cleverly, they’re trying to drive in the thin end of a destructive wedge. The current Code(s) of Conduct (CoC) debacle is a fiasco entirely of archaeology’s making.

Why so? Well, there’s three CoCs. One from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)  rightly rejected by the National Council for metal Detecting (NCMD), but predictably supported by the smug Council for British Archaeology (CBA). Then there’s the one from the Federation of Independent Detectorists (FID), and one formulated over forty years ago by the NCMD itself. The CBA’s been belly-aching about that one ever since my time as the NCMD’s General Secretary back in the early 1980s.

FID’s CoC is straight forward, but, just a tad divergent from the NCMD’s eminently sensible CoC. Nevertheless, FID and the NCMD really ought to be singing from the same hymn sheet. It all simply needs tightening up. 

Never mind that the PAS’s Code of Conduct/Practice (CoPCP) is supported by certain heritage organisations. The NCMD’s Code should carry the rider, writ LARGE, “This Code is recognised by the Sport and Recreation Alliance” (SaRA).

Many heritage outfits are also involved with the SaRA, under whose arbitration umbrella differences between member bodies are solvable. Few of these bodies I suspect, are willing to state publicly that they reject a nationally recognised organisations’ CoC. They’d be skinned alive in any subsequent public debate. Better to keep it in-house. All the NCMD has to do is send the invite to give them the chance to recant.

Imagine the rumpus if for instance, players of the Rugby Union game, were told they were ‘irresponsible’ if they failed to abide by Rugby League rules, or, vice versa. That’s precisely what’s happening with our pastime. Archaeology has always seemed to me reminiscent of the ‘closed shop’ stranglehold exerted on employers by the ‘Trades Unions of old, where, before you could get a job, it was obligatory to join and pay union dues. As one Trades Union official put it when referring to employers…” when you’ve got ‘em by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow”. Perhaps the NCMD should give  some thought to those words and inwardly digest?

There’s a notion gaining traction that archaeology per se ‘interferes with’ and ‘damages’ our freedoms to metal detect. Our opponents have learnt a lot since their thrashing at the NCMD’s hands during the 1980’s STOP Campaign.

Unlike the old days, when the NCMD would cross the road to get into a fight, I doubt there’s little appetite at ‘Head Office’ for confrontation. Given archaeology’s crocodile tears and public displays of angst-ridden hand-wringing, you can almost smell the aroma of burning martyr. Indeed, you’d be forgiven for thinking exploration of the past is exclusively theirs. But in view of the tally of trailblazing discoveries made by Detectorists which has left archaeology our eating dust, archaeology ought to hang its collective head in embarrassment. Neither do we have the monopoly of the heritage villainy.

In the 1980s the NCMD came under the umbrella protection of the Central Council for Physical Recreation’s (CCPR) Outdoor Pursuits Division. Metal Detecting became officially recognised.  The CCPR later morphed into the Sport and Recreation Alliance (SaRA) which is now the representative body for Britain’s national sports organisations.

In a rare display of daring-do the NCMD told the suspiciously named, ‘Best Practice Working Group’ to  get stuffed over amongst other things, the detecting on pasture land issue. Predictably, the BPWG was at the time Chaired by the CBA’s then Director. “Why” some people are asking, “is the BPWG never ‘Chaired’ by a NCMD representative?” Why indeed? To my mind it’s all down to …classism and /or intellectual snobbery raising its ugly head.

Whilst everyone knows Metal Detecting is a wholesome, valuable, legitimate, and educational leisure pursuit, it cannot, and must not, be allowed to rest on its laurels, nor capitulate to the whims of external bodies.  

The NCMD has gone some way in having its CoC accepted. But more needs to be done. If its CoC is good enough for the Sport and Recreation Alliance, then it’s damn well good enough for everyone else. If some organisations can’t, or won’t take it on board, then to hell with them. Responsible detecting is that which follows the NCMD’s CoC.

Our hobby punches well above its weight and we certainly don’t need, again in my view,  archaeological patronage in any way, shape, or form. Why would we want to snuggle-up with archaeology which in my experience, inherently incubates classism.

Neither is there anything remotely inappropriate with Detectorists amassing their finds into private collections, or selling items to advance the same; museums do it all the time. Yet, again, ‘Head Office’ remains strangely mute. It seems to me – in this particular issue – as though it’s not so much a case of heads in the sand, but more of heads up arses.

Collective courage ought to be the rule; not the exception. Now that the NCMD has tasted blood let’s hope it’ll bare its teeth on other issues. The hobby’s potential voting potential is an untapped tactical resource. We need to take a leaf out of our opponents’ book; their glad-handing of the political classes is a typically cunning manoeuvre. Their hands are well inside the political blouse; and so must ours.

What the hobby doesn’t need from ‘Head Office’ is an exercise akin to repositioning the deck-chairs on the Titanic, nor, a ‘talking shop’ for ‘suits’ with all  the potency of harem guards.

NCMD Code of Conduct
[See also:  then look under ‘Issue 25.’]

Federation of Independent Detectorists’ Code of Conduct: –

Portable Antiquities Scheme Code of Conduct/Practice:

Happy hunting.


2 thoughts on “You can’t catch rabbits with a dead ferret…

    • Hi Dick:
      Maybe it’s a sign of the times and archaeology’s taking a hit too. In the publicity stakes we’re winning hands down and I think they’re finally realising the inevitable – they ain’t the ‘Kings of the Castle’ any longer (apart from a couple of stupid bastards who believe otherwise that is).
      Good times ahead I’m sure.


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