Metal detecting clubs and restricted membership

One of the regular topics on UK metal detecting forums is the complaint by a relatively new detectorist about all his local clubs being closed to new members. How, he (invariably he) asks, is he or any other new detectorist to get a chance to dig, meet other detectorists and learn the ropes? Closed memberships, he claims, are discriminatory (against newbies) or simply unfair. What this amounts to is effectively an expectation that metal detecting clubs are open to as many people as want to join – especially the complainer.

Now as a fairly new detectorist myself I can understand the disappointment. I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to join a new club which was just setting up and was able to dig with them for about 8 months, but only after I too had been told by another well established local club that their membership was closed for at least 6 months but would be reviewed in the following spring. However there are very good reasons why any detecting club should set a membership ceiling and then stick to it.

  1. Dig organisers have to allow a reasonable amount of land for those who will be attending. For a day’s detecting, this should be a minimum of half an acre per person and preferably one acre per person. This is necessary for two reasons:
    1. Those attending don’t want to be going over ground that someone else detected an hour earlier, especially if whatever was there has already been dug up; and
    2. There needs to be enough land for people to spread out so as to avoid any power lines or other detectorists in order to avoid electromagnetic interference.
  2. Having to seek large areas of land to accommodate large numbers of diggers may mean that smaller but more interesting pieces of land either have to be rejected or clubs will have to tell some members that they cannot attend particular digs.
  3. Farmers may refuse to permit more than a certain number of people to attend – again, clubs will have to tell some members that they cannot attend particular digs.
  4. In some cases, there are legal restrictions on how many detectorists can be permitted on certain land, especially if the land is in some form of stewardship.
  5. There may be parking issues, for example there may be a limit to how many cars can be parked in the farmyard or which can be readily got onto and off fields.
  6. The more people attending, the greater the degree of organisation required, the greater the difficulties in keeping an eye on new members, and the greater the risk that one or more attendees will leave holes unfilled or fail to remove scrap, go outside the permitted detecting area, not show their finds (especially significant or valuable ones) etc.

One of the things which has struck me about detecting clubs is just how small many, perhaps most, of them actually are. Typically they seem to comprise 12 – 24 active members and very few seem to have more than 40. That said, it’s clear from my relatively limited experience that many established detectorists are members of 3 or 4 clubs, cherry picking which meetings to attend or digs to sign up for. This seems somewhat selfish to me, because it does reduce the opportunities for new detectorists to get a foot in the door anywhere. If you belong to one club which puts on fortnightly digs and have one or two personal permissions, you have sufficient opportunities to detect to keep you occupied most of the time.

So what are the options open to the new detectorist who is unable to join a club immediately as a digging member?

  1. Go along to the monthly meetings of any clubs in your area, just to meet people and get your face known.
  2. Put your name on the waiting list for any and every club in your area and join the first one where there is an opening. If it turns out to be not to your liking in due course, accept the next vacancy that comes up in another club and give that a try.
  3. Go along to a few open rallies if you can. Some have a poor reputation for worked-out land, seeded low-quality “finds”, poor organisation, or the location of the finds hotspots being revealed only to the organiser’s mates and so on, but others are well regarded and people attend them year after year. Read the various forums to discover which events people are recommending or otherwise. You should treat open rallies generally as a social event and consider yourself fortunate if you find anything interesting, but even a few finds will give you something to show at the next meeting you attend.
  4. Try to get a personal permission. You can write, phone or just go and knock on doors. Farmers don’t bite, don’t set the dogs on you and don’t brandish shotguns. If you are polite and presentable the worst you will get is a simple “no”, but if you persevere you will almost certainly get a “yes” eventually. You may have to knock on 20 or 30 doors but you only need one “yes” to get you started. And when you get your “yes”, seize it with enthusiasm, even if others have detected the land before you and even if you suspect it may be at the heart of a historical desert. Remember that farmers know each other, and your reputation will go before you. Piss off one and the rest will hear about it. Fill your holes, shut gates and show your farmer what you’ve found and his neighbours will hear about that, too.

As I have said before I am still a fairly new detectorist, having bought my first metal detector in October 2011. Since then I have been a member of one club and been heavily involved in the setting up of another but currently am a member of none. For one thing, I’m not a natural “joiner”, in fact I’m cranky and eccentric and mostly prefer my own company. For another, metal detecting clubs seem to be intensely political with people falling out more often than teenage girls and it’s bloody difficult keeping up to date with who’s still not talking to whom and what the falling out was about. That’s the beauty and benefit of having personal permissions – you can go and detect when you feel like it and you are beholden to none but the landowner.

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