Visiting the UK to Metal Detect


Silver Member
Dec 23, 2019
Surrey, UK
Primary Interest:
All Treasure Hunting
I?m starting this thread on behalf of ?willie? and ?Coinstar magnet? who both enquired about visiting the UK to do some metal detecting on this thread:

I responded with:

I expect that ?Crusader? may well have some sound advice if he sees this and he?s not too busy digging up spectacular finds. However, it?s quite a big question you?re asking, for which the answer(s) very much depend on exactly what you have in mind and where you are expecting to hunt. There are also distinctions to be made between ?modern? and ?old? items and/or between valuable and non-valuable items in terms of what you can (or should) do with the items you found. I can provide some pointers (but circumstances will vary). Might I suggest that your question really deserves its own thread rather than being tacked onto the end of this one, and so I have started a new thread at the link below on your behalf:

I?m not aware that anyone has explicitly answered that question here on Tnet, so these would be my thoughts. I don?t claim this to be the complete picture, but hope it helps and welcome any additions that might be thrown in by other UK members (including ?Crusader? of course)


The first thing you need to be clear about is who owns the land and what entitlement you have to be there, or use a metal detector. Here, ?trespass? is subject to civil law, not judicial law, so (except where additional restrictions reply, such as safety or security regulations) you?re generally only vulnerable to action if you damage property, become a nuisance, or breach some particular bye-law.

You can?t metal detect on private land without landowner permission and ? unless you have a written agreement that says otherwise ? finds (or the value thereof) would usually be judged as a 50:50 split between you and the landowner. Other interested parties might also have a legitimate claim to a share, for example if the land ?owner? is not the true owner but a tenant or a leaseholder.


It?s a much misused term. There is no such thing in England & Wales as land owned by the public at large. All land has an owner (or owners). What we have is more properly termed ?Common Land?, and around 3% by area of England falls into this category. Most Common Land is privately owned, but some is owned (or managed) by local councils or trusts (such as the National Trust). Common Land has the distinction that ?commoners? (the public at large) have an inherent right to use that land for certain purposes or take certain resources from it, without the owner(s) having to give permission. Those rights include things such as certain types of recreation, grazing animals, collecting wood and bracken, or digging peat.

Local authorities will have details of Common Land under their jurisdiction, and there is a central database here:

Then, in addition, we have a particular type of Common Land known as ?(Open) Access Land?. Commoners have a few additional rights on such land, such as ?the right to roam? (ie they don?t have to confine themselves to footpaths). Such land is usually heathland, moors and mountains.

Your rights do not automatically extend to metal detecting. There will be a mixed bag of: landowners who have no objection or don?t enforce their rights; those who require permission to be asked but will grant it; and those who will not grant permission. For land under council ownership there is usually a policy and it may be reinforced by local bye-laws. Trusts are usually quite protective and permissions would rarely be granted. Privately-owned land with owner permission is usually the most promising.


Even on Access Land marked on a map or otherwise, some areas remain private with no commoner rights. These areas usually comprise things such as land used to grow crops, land undergoing building development, parks & gardens, golf courses & racecourses, railway land and working quarries.

There?s a database of open access land in England here:
Natural England - Open Access maps
and for Wales here:


Although some beaches are privately owned, most are owned by the Crown Estate. Anybody wishing to carry out metal detecting on Crown Estate foreshore (defined as the land between mean high water and mean low water) may do so without a formal consent from The Crown Estate. That is, no permit is required but this applies only to the foreshore and not to the seabed, river beds or any other Crown Estate land.

There?s a database here (with Crown Estate beaches marked in purple):
and some guidance here:
Terms & Conditions apply to this permission, listed here:

For the beach area above the foreshore (ie the dry sand area) it?s up to each local council whether they impose any additional restrictions or permission requirements. Some allow detecting, some don?t and some allow it with time restrictions to minimise disruption of enjoyment by other beach users. Where restrictions exist, that usually means detecting is permitted up to the early part of the morning and then again from the late afternoon or early evening. Since every council may have their own rules, these need to be checked individually.

Note that the restricted foreshore of the River Thames is excluded from Crown Estate permissions and separately regulated (as pr below).


Anyone searching the tidal Thames foreshore from Teddington [far to the west of London] to the Thames Barrier [a huge flood defence system a little to the East of London] - in any way for any reason - must hold a current foreshore permit from the Port of London Authority (PLA). This includes all searching [including ?by eye?], metal detecting, ?beachcombing?, scraping and digging. A fee is payable. The permit is not valid east of the Thames barrier and searching of any kind is strictly prohibited at Queenhithe Dock, Brunel?s Great Eastern Slipway, the Tower of London and Greenwich Palace as well as there being a total exclusion zone around the Palace of Westminster.

Note that there are two types of permit. The standard permit allows digging to a depth of 7.5cm (3 inches) only. The ?Mudlark Permit? allows digging to a depth of 1.2m (three feet 11 inches) maximum, but is only available to members of the ?Society of Thames Mudlarks?. Currently, the PLA is not issuing any new ?Mudlark Permits?. Various restrictions apply, such as only hand tools being permitted for digging.

Details here:
and application form here:


Obviously you can't detect in areas which have heritage protection such as 'Scheduled Monuments' and would be refused permission even if you asked, It's quite a serious offence to ignore that. Other areas that are out-of-bounds for detectorists are SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and Ministry of Defence property. The National Trust only grants permission for metal detecting a part of a recognised and clearly-defined archaeological project.


Frankly, I?m horrified at some of the American posts on the forum saying things like ?I found a diamond ring that someone?s gonna be distressed at losing. Its gotta be worth $1,000 but I?ll let you know how much I get for it?.

Over here, although you have no legal obligation to report a modern valuable find, you do have an obligation to make some attempt to find the true owner (or their heir) unless you can demonstrate that the find was ?abandoned? rather than ?lost?. Otherwise, you may be open to prosecution for ?theft by finding?.

It used to be the case that such items could be handed in at a Police station and, if unclaimed after a certain period (three months if I recall correctly), the item would be returned to you. General advice from the Police is:

"Please make reasonable enquiries to find the owner, these could include asking people nearby or in offices or shops. You could also consider leaving a note with your details. If you can't find the owner, take the item to a local police station or hand it to an officer or PCSO [Police Community Support Officer]."

Although it varies from county to county, many Police forces these days won?t accept anything ?found? apart from items of high value, and the judgement on what is considered valuable varies from force to force. Some will only accept cash, items containing cash (such as wallets or purses), or items that contain the personal details of the owner.

The Metropolitan Police provide a handy guide about what you should do here:


We have a very detailed set of regulations about your obligations in relation to items that might be determined as ?Treasure? and the requirements of the ?Portable Antiquities Scheme?. All of the UK detectorist forums provide a handy guide to the ?Treasure Act 1996 (as amended)? but I will fall foul of Tnet rules if I provide links to them.

You can easily find them by Googling, but Wikipedia has a good summary and the entry includes a link to the legislation itself:

Note that the Act is applicable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but Scotland has its own legislation. That?s true for many of the legal aspects I have noted above because the nature of our devolved parliamentary system is that what applies in England (plus usually Wales and often Northern Ireland) doesn?t necessarily apply in Scotland.


According to the letter of the law, exporting many cultural items including antiques and archaeological items out of the country requires an export licence if the items are more than 50 years old. Either an Open General Export Licence (OGEL) or an Open Individual Export Licence (OIEL).

It would be fair to say that these controls are generally not enforced for casual finds unless the item(s) in question are of considerable value or cultural importance, but it would be remiss of me not to draw attention to these requirements as they currently stand in law.

There are details on how to apply here:
And guidance from the Arts Council here (see the ?Downloads? section at the bottom of the page):

In short, I would say that a visitor to the UK would maximise their opportunities if they can find a detectorist club in the vicinity where they intend to spend their time (Google is your friend). Then enquire whether the club would welcome a temporary visitor from abroad or perhaps put them in touch with a member who might take them under their wing for excursions to sites where permission has already been obtained. Offering to make a contribution to club funds might increase the chances. Another option might be to ask the question here on Tnet or, probably better still, sign up to one of the UK detectorist forums and ask if anyone would buddy up with you. You?re then likely to address a higher number of UK residents than here.

bill from lachine

Gold Member
Oct 30, 2011
🏆 Honorable Mentions:
Primary Interest:
Metal Detecting
For those considering a detecting trip to the U.K. if you're interested in taking a package tour an option would be Cochester. The former headquarters of the Roman Empire in the UK. Since there's a monetary side to this I won't post a link.

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