Illegal metal detectors at Hadrian’s Wall are wrecking part of the UK’s cultural heritage and stealing items of archaeological interest from everyone, land owners, police and experts have warned.
Areas close to the 1,900-year-old World Heritage Site, which stretches for 80 miles across some of Northern England’s most rugged scenery, have been hacked in a crime known as “nighthawking”.
Turf has been pulled out and unscrupulous searchers have raked through the dirt to steal items which could have lain hidden since Roman times.
English Heritage, the National Trust and Northumberland National Park have joined Northumbria Police in issuing a warning to anyone carrying out the activity that it is illegal and they will be prosecuted.
In recent months, illegal excavations have taken place at National Trust land at Steel Rigg and Peel Crags on Hadrian’s Wall.
These sites have special protection as Scheduled Ancient Monuments and even using a metal detector without authorisation from English Heritage is an offence.
Mark Harrison, English Heritage National Crime Advisor, said: “The practice of nighthawking, particularly from such important sites as Hadrian’s Wall, is an issue that we take very seriously.
“We recognise that the majority of the metal detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land, but just as it is against the law to break into someone’s house and steal their possessions, so it is illegal to damage land and steal valuable historical artefacts.
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“The objects they are stealing belong to the landowner, in this case the National Trust, and the history they are stealing belongs to all of us.” Eric Wilton, National Trust Countryside Manager for Hadrian’s Wall Country Group, said: “It is disappointing at a time when archaeologists and legitimate metal detectorists are working together more closely that this incident has occurred.
“The National Trust wants the public to enjoy its many and varied sites, such as these at Steel Rigg and Pele Gap, but cannot tolerate illegal metal detecting that harms the appreciation of our collective heritage.”
Chris Jones, the Historic Environment Officer for the Northumberland National Park, said: “The illegal removal of archaeological material is a serious offence. Such criminality has a damaging effect on people’s ability to understand and enjoy the cultural heritage of the National Park.”
West Tynedale Neighbourhood Inspector Kevin Oates, of Northumbria Police, said: “Because of the harm that nighthawking causes to our heritage, Northumbria Police are committed to investigating these issues.”