Useful Tips For Soil Skimmers
The biggest challenge for those new to the hobby is how to get permission for metal detecting on someone’s land. It’s not always easy, especially if you don’t know where exactly you’d like to go or who owns the land. If you’re in a hurry to get out detecting you could go to your nearest beach (having checked the ownership status of course). As mentioned in a previous blog most UK beaches are free to detect without permission.
One way to guarantee permission is to join a club and go to their digs. Click here for a list of clubs in the UK. To enquire about club digs in Scotland, send an email to this address. Other club information may be found by an online search.
Club digs are a great way of getting permission to search areas that may otherwise have been inaccessible and unknown to you. Also, you get to meet others, who share your passion, and with whom you can discuss the hobby and compare finds and other information. You will learn a lot about detectors and detecting, as well as history, by speaking to other detectorists; some of these guys have been at it for decades.
However, club digs are restrictive, as they only grant you permission for a specified time period – usually one day or, rarely, a whole weekend.
However, you may also want to have permission of your own; land that you can detect on as and when it suits you (and the owner). The most likely place to get such permission would be farmland – which is also where the best finds are liable to be. The ideal permission is an “open” one – where you are allowed to come and go, as and when you please. With an open arrangement you may rarely see the landowner after gaining his permission. Some farmers are happy with an open arrangement, whereas others require you to check with them before each visit.
Whatever the agreement I would recommend touching base with the farmer occasionally to show – and offer – them your finds. They may or may not have any interest, but at least it demonstrates your honesty and keeps them sweet. Also, it’s a good idea to check periodically that the land ownership has not changed – or you could find yourself in trouble. It would also be a good idea to give the farmer a small gift, around Christmas time, to ensure his continuing goodwill.
In order to get permission for metal detecting on someone’s land you’ll need to find out who the owner is. There are Land Registry bodies in the UK that will impart ownership information for a fee, however there are other, free, ways to find owners.
If you search on Google for the name of an area or town and add the word “farms” a map will pop up showing the local farms. The names of the owners (or businesses) will be shown along with contact details, though not all farms appear on these searches. If you were interested in a particular field you may be able to guess which farm it most likely belonged to and make that your first point of contact.
Another way to get information on land ownership (or permission) would be to visit a farm shop. If you buy some of their produce before making enquiries you may well get a positive response. Similarly, you could visit a farmer’s market and look for opportunities there. It may also be worth posting pleas for permission on agricultural forums or social media groups.
Joining a local history group may be profitable not only in learning about the past land use of an area, but also as you may meet landowners or others who can help you gain permissions.
There are several ways of contacting a farmer to ask for permission; in person, by phone, email or letter. Personally, I prefer the direct, face to face approach, although knocking on a farmer’s door and expecting him to agree to allow a complete stranger to come and dig holes on his land is a daunting experience, and you have to be prepared for rejection.
However, with this method you should get an immediate answer, whereas, if you’d sent a letter you could wait for weeks and still be told NO – or not get a reply. Speaking to the landowner in person will give him the chance to size you up, while you explain how you’ve researched the history of the area and suggest what you may hope to find. If (as is highly recommended) you’re a member of either the National Council for Metal Detecting or the Federation of Independent Detectorists you should mention this, and explain that you adhere to their code of conduct and are covered by liability insurance.
You could also offer him something in exchange for permission, such as any type of service that you could provide, or help to find any metallic object that they may have lost.
If the farmer says no, or seems unsure, you could offer him a card with your contact details in case he has second thoughts. Or, if the owner is not available to speak with, you could leave a card with his relatives or contractors. It’s worth a try, so be sure to have such a card ready, showing your name and number, your NCMD (or FID) membership number and details of any club affiliation you have.
If you’re not confident about knocking on a door you could try speaking to a farmer while he’s outside. If you can attract his attention (without trampling his crops) he may well come over to speak to you. This approach has worked for me twice; in each case the farmer saw me standing watching him, and climbed down from his tractor to ask if I was looking for something. After a short conversation I managed to persuade each farmer to allow me access to their fields.
Of course it could easily go the other way – you could get a refusal. Or, you could stand for hours, watching a tractor go up and down a field, while the driver ignores you, and you won’t even know if he’s the actual landowner. Many farms are run by tenants, or employ outside contractors, which is a good reason to go directly to the farmhouse. That way you’ll soon find out who you’re dealing with. If the farmer is a tenant, you’ll need his permission and the landowner’s.
Some detectorists recommend signing legal contracts, which may include details of how the proceeds gained from any items of value would be split between landowner and finder. My permissions have always been by verbal agreement, where I have assured the landowner of a 50/50 split of any monetary gains. I have only once been asked to sign a contract – basically a disclaimer to protect the farmer from any potential injury claim. Whether or not you think contracts are necessary it may be handy to have one to hand when asking for permission. Sample contracts can be found online, for example, here.