Digging for treasure: Is ‘nighthawking’ stealing our past?

Heritage groups say one of the countryside’s most famous monuments is “under attack” from illegal metal detectorists hunting for buried treasure. But what is “nighthawking” – and is it robbing us of our past?

“See a penny, pick it up and all that day you’ll have good luck” – it’s something we’ve all told ourselves on those harmless occasions we’ve spotted small change on the ground.

But there are times when pocketing the odd silver or gold coin truly breaks the law.

Illegal metal detecting – or “nighthawking” as it is more commonly known – is sweeping the spine of the east of England, heritage groups say, robbing us of our chance to examine the past and causing damage and strife to landowners.

England’s earliest settlements – areas such as Lincolnshire, Sussex, East Anglia and Kent – are some of those suffering the most at the hands of criminals churning up the land in the hope of finding valuable relics left by our ancestors.

Digging for treasure: Is ‘nighthawking’ stealing our past?

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Roman coins confiscated after illegal use of metal detector

Police in Episkopi [Cyprus] arrested a 48-year-old man late on Wednesday for allegedly using a metal detector in an area where it is prohibited.

Officers were tipped off that an unknown man was using a metal detector near the ancient Curium theatre in the Latsidia area of Episkopi.

The 48-year-old was searched by police who found and confiscated the metal detector, various digging tools, pieces of scrap made of lead, a lead plate and four small bronze coins.

Roman coins confiscated after illegal use of metal detector

Lifetime ban for illegal detecting reduced to 5 years

A metal detectorist from Northamptonshire who was given a suspended prison sentence after he admitted stealing artefacts from a protected site in the county has had an indefinite worldwide ban on him using a metal detector overturned at the Court of Appeal.

Darren West, aged 51, was one of two men prosecuted after English Heritage officers spotted them acting suspiciously at Chester Farm, near Irchester, Northamptonshire, in July last year.

Mr Justice Cranston, sitting with Lord Justice Aikens and Mr Justice Irwin, said West admitted downloading maps and photos relating to the site, and “knew what he was doing” when he went onto the land at Chester Farm.

He said: “He was well-known in the area for having an interest in archaeology. He knew that the site was a protected monument and that he could not enter it with metal detectors”.

Lifetime metal detecting ban for Northamptonshire man is reduced to five years

This should have remained a lifetime ban. He knew what he was doing and that it was illegal. That’s all anyone need to take into account.

Whitby Abbey grounds damaged by illegal metal detecting

Damage has been caused to the grounds of the historic Whitby Abbey by illegal metal detecting.

Since March, 14 holes have been dug across the Grade I-listed site while the property is closed at night.

English Heritage and police believe it is the result of illegal metal detecting, known as nighthawking.

Whitby Abbey grounds damaged by illegal metal detecting