The Port Run

Let’s face it – without the kindness of landowners detectorists would be stuck in their own gardens. Even the beaches are owned by someone and permission  is needed to detect on them. So let’s hear it for landowners, eh?

I went out this morning to deliver bottles of port to the landowners of the two personal permissions on which I’ve been doing my solo detecting this year. As well as the port, I enclosed print-outs for each of the finds from their land which has been recorded with the PAS this year. I also took the opportunity to return Farmer No 2’s Roman grot which the FLO had been unable to identify beyond “probably 2nd century”.

Unfortunately neither farmer was around when I visited. Farmer No 1 was out hedging but I left his carrier bag by the kitchen door under an old tiled cart shed. Farmer No 2 was nowhere to be seen either so I left his carrier by the back wheel of his 4×4 under the car port by the side door. Not wanting to risk leaving the coin out in case someone nicked the carrier bag, I posted it through the letterbox so that it was safe. Once I got home I left a message on Farmer 2’s answerphone telling him where the coin was.

I phoned Farmer No 2 again this evening to check he’d found the coin and retrieved the carrier bag (yes to both) and we had a chat about his land, its history and the surrounding area. He mentioned again the “graveyard” supposed to be on the land according to the testimony of a 90-year-old villager when he himself was a lad of about 10. This would date the testimony, as oral history, to sometime about 1880. The area indicated is where the tenant tends to keep his cattle and is accordingly badly churned up, so I’m not sure when would be best to give it a go. The farmer also mentioned again the claimed connections with a local religious house, though he did not have any details. Clearly in the New Year I am going to have to take another trip to Warwickshire county archives.

On the digging and filling of holes

It is the essential nature of metal detecting that sooner or later the detectorist will end up digging holes. Probably quite a lot of holes.  Quite how one digs those holes and what one does with them afterwards is the cause of much grief to the detecting community.

Let us first consider the digging of holes. There are essentially two approaches:

  1. To cut three sizes of a square and use the remaining, uncut, side as a hinge, and then to flip the sod out. Reinstating the hole created by this method essentially means flipping the sod back into place; and
  2. Cutting all the way round the sod in an approximate circle and lifting the whole piece out. Cut by this method, the extracted sod is more or less cone-shaped and tapers to a point in the middle. Reinstating the hole means putting the sod back as before.

Now I have seen both methods used on the club digs and open rallies I have attended. My personal preference is for the three-sides-and-a-hinge method for several reasons:

  1. The hinge ensures that the sod remains attached to the surrounding turf so that it is less likely to be lifted by animal activity and less likely to die; and
  2. Sods dug by this manner tend to be deeper and therefore fit more snugly back into the hole.

Many of the cut-all-the-way-round sods I have seen have been cut remarkably shallow – sometimes only 3″ or 4″, and within only few hours of being cut the sod often already looks wilted and sorry for itself. It’s easy to imagine the state of it by the following day, especially in hot, dry weather.

The aim in  digging and reinstated holes is for the hole to be invisible once reinstated. This may not always be possible if the soil is either too wet or dry, but there is no excuse for not doing one’s level best to do the best job possible in the circumstances.

I mentioned above that holes are a source of grief to the metal detecting community. This is largely because there are an unknown number of detectorists who:

  1. Do not fill their holes in, properly or at all;
  2. Leave rubbish in the hole, typically iron, which should be removed; or
  3. Leave rubbish by the side of the hole, whether they replace the sod or not.

The problem occurs on all types of land, but is most problematic on pasture where an unfilled hole is not only a very visible eyesore but may also present a hazard to livestock, while on arable land a large lump of iron left on the surface may cause significant and expensive damage to farm machinery. It’s a problem which afflicts many clubs and which is almost universal on open rallies where many attendees are complete strangers, many are newcomers to detecting and may not have been given guidance in the practicalities and etiquette of digging and filling holes, and some are simply selfish and idle bastards who don’t give a damn and rely on the large numbers on the field to camouflage their anti-social activities. On a club dig which I organised last year, a sod was put back with a broken bottle, sharp shards pointing upwards, placed on top of it – and this in a field containing several horses and after a pre-dig demonstration of the expected standards of hole digging and reinstatement. There is absolutely no excuse for selfishness like this.

Identifying the culprits is rarely easy, especially where the non-filling of holes is deliberate and systematic, the result of an anti-social attitude; such individuals tend to be very aware of the whereabouts of dig marshalls and to behave when they suspect they are under surveillance. Spreading some 50 detectorists over 100 acres of fields on a club dig or, worse, 500+ detectorists over 1,000 acres on a major rally, makes it almost impossible for organisers and marshalls to catch the culprits in the act. I’m aware of one club which has recently invested in a quadcopter, or “spy in the sky”, with a camera to monitor problems of this sort and has successfully identified and banned at least one member as a result.

And what happens when a landowner walks around after a dig or rally and finds holes and rubbish left all over the place? Typically he decides any payment he receives is not worth the hassle and the club, organisation or individual will lose access to the land in future. And the club, organisation or individual is not the only loser, because metal detecting as a whole suffers when word of a negative experience gets around the farming community.