Metal detecting Scotland: A complete guide 2023
Scotland is one of the oldest countries in the world and has thousands of years of history linked to the ancient Celts, the Picts, the Vikings and the Romans. For metal detectorists, Scotland is a paradise with endless beaches, fields and ancient sites available to scan for buried treasure.
I've always been interested in metal detecting due to an ancient stone circle near my home (now sadly destroyed by a farmer); I hope to one day scan the area around it for lost artefacts. In 1881 two ancient axes were found nearby; I'm sure there is more to be found!
But what are the rules around metal detecting in Scotland? Can you go around digging anywhere you like? Let's investigate this exciting hobby and find out everything you need to know about metal detecting in Scotland.
What is metal detecting?
Metal detecting is a popular hobby around the globe, combining the thrill of treasure hunting with an appreciation for history and archaeology. It involves using a metal detector, a handheld electronic device, to search for metal objects buried beneath the ground. From ancient coins and jewellery to war relics and historical artefacts, metal detecting can yield an array of fascinating finds.
What makes metal detecting so captivating is its unpredictable nature. You never know what you might discover with each sweep of the detector. It could be something as ordinary as a discarded soda can or as extraordinary as a centuries-old Viking hoard. These potential treasures are not just material possessions; they are pieces of history, each holding a unique story waiting to be revealed.
This hobby can be as casual or as serious as one wishes. Some people enjoy metal detecting for the simple joy of being outdoors and the excitement of the hunt, while others approach it with more scholarly interest, using their finds to learn more about the past.
Is metal detecting legal in Scotland?
Metal detecting is legal in Scotland, but there are some rules you have to abide by. Here are the key points:
Permission: You need to obtain permission from the landowner before metal detecting on private land. Without this, you could be trespassing, which is illegal.
Protected Sites: Using a metal detector on scheduled monuments or sites of special scientific interest is illegal without special permission from Historic Environment Scotland.
Treasure Trove: Any objects of archaeological or historical interest found in Scotland are subject to the law of Treasure Trove. This means that such objects, regardless of their material, must be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) in Scotland for assessment.
These laws are in place to protect Scotland's rich and important archaeological heritage. It's crucial for anyone interested in metal detecting to fully understand and abide by these laws to ensure that historical artefacts are properly handled and preserved.
Treasure trove unit
The Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) is a body in Scotland that manages the Scottish law of treasure trove. In Scotland, unlike many other countries, all objects of archaeological significance, regardless of their material or value, can be claimed as treasure troves, which means they legally belong to the Crown.
The primary responsibilities of the TTU are to:
Assess Finds: When an object is found that may be of historical or archaeological significance, it should be reported to the TTU. The unit's experts will then assess the object to determine its significance.
Allocate Finds: If the object is claimed as a treasure trove, it may be allocated to a museum. The finder may receive an ex gratia reward (a payment made from a moral obligation rather than a legal requirement) based on the object's market value.
Record Information: The TTU maintains records of all objects claimed as treasure troves. This information is important for historical and archaeological research.
Promote Best Practice: The TTU works to promote best practices among finders, including metal detectorists, in terms of reporting finds, responsible metal detecting, and recording findspots accurately.
The work of the Treasure Trove Unit ensures that objects of historical and archaeological importance are preserved for the nation's benefit and can contribute to our understanding of Scotland's past.
So how do I start metal detecting in Scotland?
Fancy yourself as a budding Indiana Jones or Lara Croft? I certainly do (Indiana Jones!), so how do you get started with metal detecting in Scotland? It's always a bit of a thought to start a new hobby, so here are a few tips!
Get a metal detector
Although it's tempting to rush out and a metal detector of your own, why not join a local club and ask to join them on their next trip? That way, you can get an idea of the best detector you can purchase within your budget. Advice from club members can be invaluable, and they might even have one for sale. Failing that, it's worth checking out the second-hand market for deals.
Popular metal detector brands are Garrett, Nokta and Minelab. Consider choosing from the Garrett Ace range as your first metal detector.
Practice with your new metal detector
Read the instructions fully, and practice with different metals to see how sensitive it is and how powerful a reading you get at different distances from each metal.
Choose your location wisely
Remember to get permission from the landowner when you decide to visit a location. Stay away from scheduled monuments. A public beach would be a good place to start.
Beware of cables
Not all cables can be visible; many offshore subsea cables come ashore and are buried underground before connecting to an overhead line. Look for signs of power and data cables before digging if you find metal.
What should I do if I find treasure?
Panic! Just kidding, here's what you should do if you find treasure.
Document Your Discoveries: Use a GPS device or a detailed map to record the exact location of each find, also known as a findspot. It's best to note the National Grid Reference, such as NJ 12345 67890, for precise record-keeping.
Preserve Your Finds: Each find should be individually stored in a bag, clearly marked with the corresponding findspot. This will aid in preserving the context of each artefact.
Maintain Originality: Refrain from cleaning your finds or applying substances like oils, varnishes, waxes, or acidic materials. These actions could potentially damage the artefacts.
Report Your Finds: Report your finds to the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU). Initially, you can email images and the reporting form.
Handing in Your Finds: Detailed instructions on submitting your finds to the TTU are available in the provided guidance document. Following these instructions will ensure that your discoveries are handled correctly and contribute to our understanding of history.
Discoveries in their original location, known as 'in situ' finds, can hold crucial archaeological insights, particularly in the case of larger collections like hoards. If you encounter such a find:
Preserve the Site: It's essential to leave the objects undisturbed in their original location. Simply cover them over to protect them from exposure.
Record the Location: Accurately pinpoint the site using a GPS device to obtain a 10-figure grid reference or mark the exact spot on a map. This precision is vital for the subsequent archaeological investigation.
Report Immediately: Contact the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU) or your local authority archaeologist without delay. Their expertise will ensure the proper extraction and preservation of the find, maintaining its historical and archaeological significance.
It goes without saying, if you find human remains, call Police Scotland at once by calling 101.
Metal detecting clubs
One of the best ways to get involved in metal detecting is to join a local club. Not only can you find the best places to scan, but you can learn from more experienced detectorists and learn the best metal detectors to purchase. New members can save hours of research by joining a club.
Scottish Detector Club: Founded in 1978, this is one of the oldest clubs in Scotland. They hold regular meetings and detection rallies.
West Of Scotland Archaeology Service (WOSAS) Metal Detecting Club: This club works closely with the local archaeological service and holds regular meetings.
Fife Metal Detecting Club: Based in Fife, this club holds regular events and promotes responsible detecting.
Tayside Metal Detecting Club: A club that organizes regular events and club meets in the Tayside region.
Scottish Artefact Recovery Group (SARG): A group that works closely with the Treasure Trove Unit and organizes detecting rallies.
Lothians Detecting Club: A club based in the Lothians region, east of Edinburgh.
These are just a few of the many clubs; it's best to search for clubs more local to your location.
Additional tips for the budding metal detectorist
If on a dig between May and August, you may be bothered by the pesty Scottish Midge, a small biting insect, check my Midge Survival Guide for advice.
Don't give up if you don't find anything on your first try; many of the most remarkable discoveries have been made through sheer perseverance.
Leave no trace - Don't give yourself and other detectorists a bad name by leaving holes everywhere! Refill and try and be as tidy as possible.
Invest in a few additional tools, such as a shovel, trowel, sand scoop and headphones, to easily hear your metal detector.
What have metal detectorists found in Scotland in the past?
Here are just a few of the top finds:
In 2021 an amateur metal detectorist discovered 8400 medieval coins, one of the largest finds in Scottish History.
Bronze age artefacts were found in 2020 near Peebles in the Scottish Borders. A complete horse's harness and a sword were discovered.
Gold jewellery worth more than £1 million was found in a field near Stirling in 2017.
A hoard of Viking treasure was uncovered in Dumfries and Galloway in late 2014.
Two hundred Bronze Age tools were found by a detectorist near St Andrews in 1990.
FAQs on metal detecting in Scotland
Here are a few frequently asked questions about metal detecting in Scotland.
Can I metal detect on the beach in Scotland?
Scottish beaches are generally safe to legally metal detect as digging in sand causes minimal damage. Digging on the Crown foreshore requires no permit, but double-check before your visit.
Something to keep in mind, however, is many World War 2 bombs are often washed up on Scottish beaches. Mortars and hand grenades can be common and are regularly disposed of by specialist demolition squads; not something you want to be hitting hard with a shovel!
What metal detector should I buy as a beginner?
The Garret Ace range is widely considered the best for beginners. The build quality is fantastic, and it's very easy to use and make discoveries.
Where is the best place to metal detect in Scotland?
Perth and Kinross is a very popular part of Scotland for metal detectorists and has many fine clubs to join for advice and location inspiration. There is potential to make finds in all areas of Scotland due to its rich history spanning thousands of years.
How can I discover who owns the land so I can obtain permission?
Scotland's Land Information Service is a useful place to start; failing that, you could try the local council to obtain contact information. If you want to scan on a farmer's land, you could always try knocking on the farmhouse door for permission. Local knowledge is often invaluable when trying to find consent.
Can you keep the treasure you find in Scotland?
No, all ancient objects discovered in Scotland legally belong to the Crown. However, it's possible to receive a portion of the item's value since you were honest and handed it over to the Treasure Trove Unit.
Can you be fined for not declaring treasure?
Yes, the fines can be significant. All treasure must be declared within 14 days of its discovery.
Is it legal to use a metal detector near a scheduled monument?
No, it's highly illegal. It is a criminal offence to scan within 20m of a scheduled monument with a fine of up to £50,000 and/or a jail sentence. So places like castles, ruins, standing stones, ruined cathedrals or burial cairns should be avoided.
Key information on metal detecting in Scotland
Scotland is an excellent country for budding metal detectorists due to its long history spanning thousands of years.
A metal detector is an electronic handheld device capable of locating metal underground.
Metal detecting is legal in Scotland, but the landowner must give consent.
Protected sites are strictly no-go areas.
If "treasure" is discovered, it must be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit.
Joining a club is a great way to get advice on equipment and locations.
A beach is a great place to start with metal detectors in Scotland.
Keeping treasure or detecting near a scheduled monument can incur huge fees or jail time.
Metal detecting in Scotland is much more than a mere hobby; it's a journey into the very heart of the nation's rich history, a thrilling exploration that reveals stories from the past buried just beneath our feet.
To all existing and aspiring detectorists out there, may your hunts be fruitful and your discoveries significant. Happy hunting!
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