The ‘Nighthawking Survey’ commissioned by English Heritage

You may recently have received or read the report resulting from the so-called ‘Nighthawking Survey’, originally proposed by the PAS, and carried out by Oxford Archaeology for English Heritage. The report contains statements relating to the UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) that are factually incorrect, or misleading by virtue of the omission of pertinent information. No member of the UKDFD recording scheme was consulted at any time regarding the statements, and relevant information, readily available on the UKDFD website, would appear to have been completely disregarded. Such elementary failures to make adequate enquiries before drawing conclusions inevitably raise doubts about the validity of the report’s findings in respect of its specific investigation remit.

The statements concerned are contained within clause 3.2.20 of the report, and each is addressed below.

1. The report states that the UKDFD “…only records the location of finds to parish level…”

The statement is incorrect. The UKDFD provides for the recording of finds to the highest level of accuracy that a recorder is willing or able to provide. Recording to parish level is merely the minimum level of accuracy required for material to be eligible.

2. The report states that the UKDFD “…does not pass information onto HERs and is therefore of limited value to archaeological research and management.”

The statement is entirely lacking in balance, and appears contrived to portray the UKDFD in a negative manner. In particular, it fails to mention the fact that, prior to its launch, the UKDFD offered a facility to transfer records directly to the PAS database. In fact, during the UKDFD development phase, a considerable amount of time was spent making such a transfer of records technically viable. Had the PAS not chosen to decline this offer, UKDFD records would automatically have been passed to the HERs.

Furthermore, having declined the invitation – a move that some might reasonably regard as irresponsible – the PAS (along with bodies that seek to restrict the metal-detecting hobby) introduced a Code of Practice, which, by implication, brands those detectorists who record with the UKDFD as irresponsible.

3. The report states that “Some believe that the PAS database and the information that is passed to the HERs is used to further restrict the land available for detecting, others believe (erroneously) that the PAS does not record post-medieval finds. The UK Detector Finds Database (UKDFD) was therefore set up by detectorists as an alternative to the PAS.”

The mission statement of the UKDFD clearly sets out its aims, which are considerably more wide-ranging than the final sentence of this statement concludes. The concerns that detectorists have regarding restrictions being placed on their hobby are also far wider than the statement implies.

Gary Brun
UKDFD Admin Team