Metal Detecting on Council owned land

The Policy of Metal Detecting on Doncaster Council Owned Land was adopted at a meeting held on 11 September 1978 and as such stated that “Treasure seekers be not allowed to use metal detectors on land in the control of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council”


Every year many hundreds of archaeological objects are found by the public or employees and contractors on land owned by Doncaster Council, from each metalwork and coins to pottery and butchered animal bones. Each object (a portable antiquity) has its own archaeological significance and can tell us a little more about the historic and archaeological landscapes of the past, but this is only possible when objects are well provenanced and scientifically recorded.

Portable antiquities are discovered by accident, by field observation or by metal detector prospecting. Under English Law, Doncaster Council, as a landowner, owns all the man-made objects buried on its land, but finders often presume that as they found an object it must belong to them.

In the Doncaster district significantly more archaeological objects are found by members of the public, especially by metal detector prospecting then by developer-funded excavation or fieldwork. It is estimated that 400,000 objects are dug up each year in England and Wales.

Recent changes is legislation include the Treasure Act 1996 which updates treasure trove law. The new act defines treasure as objects that are at least 300 years old and contains at least 10% gold or silver. The Treasure Act was adopted in 1996 and is now law.

The Policy for Archaeology and Portable Antiquities

The Policy of Metal Detecting on DMBC Owned Land was adopted at a meeting held on 11 September 1978 and as such stated that “Treasure seekers be not allowed to use metal detectors on land in the control of Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council”

The Policy was reviewed on 27 November 1996 as changes in legislation since the original decision and the increasing amount of portable antiquities discovered (not only by metal detectors), indicated the need for the policy to be reviewed.

Doncaster Council is the largest landowner in the Borough and owns a substantial archaeological resource including a number of scheduled Ancient Monuments on which it is already a criminal offence to metal detect or remove property. As a landowner Doncaster Council already recognises national guidelines pertaining to archaeology.


The policy for portable antiquities on Doncaster Council land reads as follows:

a – Deliberate removal of any portable antiquity from DMBC owned land is prohibited

Guidance note. Once an item is dug up from the ground it is divorced from its context and archaeological meaning and further study and appreciation is prevented if it is not scientifically recorded or made publicly available.

b – Any portable antiquity found or uncovered by accident should be reported to Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery for recording and for potential acquisition to the Museum’s archaeological collections

Guidance note. As landowner Doncaster Council has legal title to any antiquities found on its land with the exception of items that are Treasure Trove (objects which are substantially made of gold or silver). In the event of an object being unsuitable for the Museum’s collections, the Museum may redirect the object to a more suitable institution or return it to the finder.

c – Use of metal detectors may be approved (via the Museum Service) under specific circumstances

Guidance note. When used under supervision of authorised contractors, or by properly equipped archaeological societies, metal detectors on Doncaster Council owned land may be approved under this specific circumstance, that is, archaeological works that the Council has contracted, or given permission for field walking by a local archaeological society. In such instances, deposition of all finds at Doncaster Museum is required and is a pre-requisite for permission to undertake fieldwork. For Scheduled Ancient Monuments use of metal detectors and all other types of fieldwork requires permission from the Secretary of State for National Heritage. 

Protecting and preserving our heritage

The policy prohibiting the search for archaeological objects on all Doncaster Council owned land by field walking or by metal detecting prospecting will protect and preserve the Borough’s considerable archaeological heritage for study and enjoyment by future generations. It also clarifies the legal ownership of any portable antiquity found on such land and confirms that Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery is the appropriate institution for any item recovered on Doncaster Council land.

Last updated: 02 December 2020 14:35:16

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