Useful Tips For Soil Skimmers
Okay, so you’ve got your detector, you’ve got your pinpointer, spade, and any other equipment that you need. You’re itching to get out there and find something, but do you know where the best places to metal detect are?
Note: Some of the content below is specific to the UK, however the general advice should apply everywhere.
The following list will give you some suggestions of where you can get started. First of all be aware that you can’t just go anywhere and start digging. All land belongs to someone, and that “someone” needs to grant you permission. Even so-called “common land” belongs to someone. This is certainly the case in the UK and most likely applies in other countries too.
Luckily there is one exception to the rule, one place where you can go without seeking permission: The beach. Or to be more accurate the majority of beaches.
In the UK most beaches belong to the Crown Estate and until quite recently required you to obtain an annual licence.
However around February 2017 The Crown Estate announced that they were no longer issuing permits. A statement on their website reads:
“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.”
*In Scotland the foreshore definition is (between mean high water of spring tides and mean low water of spring tides.)
More comprehensive info can be found in this downloadable pdf.
Note: In the case of the River Thames only, the Crown Estate jointly administer a permit with the Port of London authority.
Don’t let any of this put you off. It may look complicated, but the bottom line is you’re good to go on any UK beach unless it’s privately owned – in which case you’ll need permission from the owner.
The public beaches get the most traffic though and thus produce the most finds. So, get down to the beach and start searching for some of those coins and lost jewellery that are most definitely there. Just remember to tidy up after you – yes even on a beach you have a legal – and moral – obligation to refill your holes.
On busy beaches you’d be recommended to go early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds. A great time to go, apparently, is after a storm – when things that may have lain hidden for years have been dredged up and deposited on the beach.
If you’re not proficient in adjusting your detector settings, or it’s not designed to be waterproof, you should keep to the dry sand. Wet sand or sea-water can give false readings and background noise.
Regardless of whether you’re digging wet or dry sand you would be well advised to invest in a sand scoop. Most scoops are either plastic or stainless steel.
A steel scoop would prevent the use of a pinpointer of course. However the idea behind a sand scoop is to use it as a sieve, which precludes the need for a pointer.
Steel scoops are tough and can be fixed to a shaft and pushed into the sand by foot, thus avoiding the need to bend down. This is especially handy when operating in several feet of water.
If you have a garden around your house, then there you have it – your first permission. You could research the area around the garden, and you may find some interesting history, but bear in mind that your topsoil may have been imported from elsewhere. Having said that – who knows what may have arrived with the soil?
Of course if it’s a rented property then technically you should seek the owner’s permission. However, as you are presumably allowed to dig the ground, it’s unlikely to be a problem. Your garden may or may not have anything worth finding but it will be a good place for you to test your detector and get to grips with the settings.
You could also ask friends, relatives or neighbours if you can detect their gardens. You’d be surprised how often someone will tell you how they lost a ring or other item while working outside, and the possibility of you recovering it will incentivise them to give you permission. In fact there are many documented cases where detectorists have returned lost items to their grateful owners.
However, some people are very protective of their gardens and would hate the idea of you messing up their flower beds or digging holes in their lawn. If you do get permission be careful to put things back as you found them.
If you have a signal on a lawn, that you are sure is worth digging, you should use the pinpoint facility on your detector to determine exactly where the target is. Cut a neat plug around that point and flip it out.
Once you’ve recovered the target you can replace the plug and press it down until the “wound” is barely visible. It won’t take long for the lawn to recover leaving no trace.
If you ever get the chance to speak to the owner of a stately home or other large residence you could ask them for permission. Such people often have a long lineage and are well aware of their history. Any artefacts you might recover would of great interest to them.
In the UK, two organisations that offer third party liability insurance are, the National Council for Metal Detecting and the Federation of Independent Detectorists. Membership (renewable annually) of either is inexpensive and strongly recommended, as it demonstrates that you are a responsible detectorist, and this could help you secure permissions.
For example, when speaking to a landowner, you could mention that as a member of the NCMD, you had civil liability insurance cover of up to £10,000,000, and that you adhered to their Code of Conduct. Note: Some Metal Detecting clubs will insist on NCMD or FID membership as a prerequisite.
In the UK parks generally belong to city or a shire council. Some councils will allow detecting – subject to application – but others have a blanket ban. You should be able to find out if it’s allowed, and how to apply, by searching the relevant council’s website.
If you’re thinking of detecting parkland in the UK you should bear in mind – in terms of likely finds – that many parks were founded in the Victorian era. However some “common” grounds may be much older. If you do get permission on parkland the best areas would likely be along the courses of footpaths, beneath old trees, seating areas and on south facing slopes where people may have basked in the sun.
It would be worth researching old maps and local history before going out, as you may find that the park’s layout has been altered or events were held at certain areas.
In the US, apparently, it’s permissible to detect parks in some states or towns but not in others. Other countries may or may not allow detecting so the bottom line is that you need to check the legalities for any place you wish to detect.
Farm fields are where you’re most likely to detect if you gain your own permissions or, especially, if you join a metal detecting club. Often you look at a field and can’t imagine that anyone would ever have been there to drop (or hide) anything but actually fields are probably among the best places to metal detect.
Nowadays an average field may only see the tyres of a huge tractor a few times a year, but in times past scores of farm workers would have spent many hours each year ploughing, sewing, harvesting or whatever. When you consider that before mechanisation, manpower was the way of farming for many centuries, so there must have been plenty of items lost or stashed over time.
Also, when you factor in the network of footpaths that crisscrossed the land before the age of motor-cars, you begin to realise the amount of people that could have passed through. And then there’s the fact that homes or settlements may have existed there too, from perhaps as far back as the Neolithic period through Bronze Age, Iron Age, Mediaeval and up until more recent times.
Who knows, depending on what part of the UK your field is located it could have seen footfall from Romans, Saxons, Angles, Danes, Vikings, Picts, or folk from various Celtic tribes – all of whom used metal.
In the days before the existence of banks or safe-deposit boxes people would have to hide their valuables to protect them. Often the owner would die, without having told anyone where the stash was, and so it would remain hidden. I would expect the most likely place to hide your goods would’ve been beneath a tree or a large boulder.
Many years or maybe centuries later the tree would have died and it’s roots rotted away, or the land may have been cleared of rocks, with the result that the buried treasure would lie beneath the ground in a seemingly random place.
I have seen first hand evidence of this – on a club dig in Scotland – when a young lad began finding ornamented silver fragments. This led to the discovery of a historically significant Roman hoard about eighteen inches down.
The point is that this was in the middle of a field with no distinctive features – however seventeen centuries earlier when the silver was placed there the land would have looked quite different.
Another fact to consider is that in past centuries some country areas were used as dumps for rubbish transported from the towns. As an old saying goes “where there’s muck there’s brass”.
If you take all of the above into account you’re sure to look at the land differently. Indeed, of the hundreds of farm fields I’ve detected in, I could count on one hand the ones where I didn’t find at least one coin.
To detect on a farm you need permission from the landowner – which is usually the farmer. If it’s a tenant farmer you must get both their permission and the landowner’s. See HOW TO GET PERMISSION…
Once you have gained permission you may still not be able to access certain areas. If a field is in crop it’s a no-no. You’ll have to wait until the crop has been harvested before you can go there.
Pasture fields are usually the easiest to work in. As with a lawn you should cut plugs and replace them – grass side up – as you go.
Stubble fields are usually easy to dig, but swinging the coil freely and locating solid targets can be troublesome.
Ploughed soil can be lucrative, as it’s the ploughing that brings up relics from deep down, however actually walking and detecting along the furrows can be hard going, especially as you may have accumulated several inches of earth beneath the soles of your boots.
If the field is rolled after ploughing that would be much better, but there may be a limited window of opportunity before the field is sown and thus out of bounds.
However, some farmers will allow detecting among seedlings, as long as you are careful to replant them the right way up.
If you can get permission to detect a wood it would be worth giving it a shot.
Unfortunately the Forestry Commission and Forest Enterprise in the UK do not allow any detecting on their land whatsoever, however there are many other woodland areas not owned by them.
Some natural woods are very ancient and could produce exciting finds. Paths often traverse these woods and may have seen a lot of traffic in bygone days.
It’s worth noting that when a tree falls over and blocks a path walkers are forced to create a diversion around the obstruction and often this becomes the new route.
So you can imagine that in a centuries-old wood the footpath routes may have been altered many times, and as a result finds may be unearthed some distance either side of an existing path.
Always scan the base of old trees as these could be where stuff has been hidden. Also, where a tree has fallen it would be worth running your coil over the underside of the exposed roots as well as deep down in the crater where the tree once stood.
The soil in a wood is often soft and easy to dig however it may also be riddled with tree roots. In such a case a special tool such as a Garrett Edge Digger is an invaluable aid as it has a trowel shaped serrated blade which can cut through small roots.
As well as woods there are many narrow belts of trees around the countryside. These are often characterised by parallel rows of old trees – usually beech or oak. Modern roads often run alongside these belts, but it’s the space between the tree rows where the original roads would have been.
Originally, these would have seen mainly foot traffic and horse-drawn carts. They would definitely be worth a go, especially around the oldest trees and on any clearings, as travellers would often have made camp along the way. Some historical research may bring up useful information on these old roads.
Although the usual places to detect are beaches, fields, woods, parks and gardens there are other possibilities.
With the current trend of house-building in the UK thousands of acres of land are being built on to expand existing towns and villages. It may be worthwhile contacting the developers and seeking permission to detect before they begin ripping the ground apart. Timing is essential here – as there may be a very short interval between the date the contractors acquire the land and the day when they fence it off securely prior to commencing work.
If you see signs of any work going on anywhere that involves changes to the ground surface, whether it be trenches for cables or pipes or ditch-dredging, it is always worth enquiring as to whether you can get permission to detect. If you can’t get onto the actual site you may still be able to swing your coil over the spoil.
If you are planning a holiday abroad you might consider checking the detecting legalities of your destination. For example I have detected some beaches in the Dominican Republic without any problem. I had checked online beforehand and there were (in 2016) no restrictions on detecting beaches.
I’ve heard it’s the same in Hawaii and I know of people who have detected beaches on Spain and the Canary Islands – without any bother – though there are are conflicting reports on the legality there.
There are other countries where detecting is reportedly allowed – at least on beaches – so it may be worth looking into it before you book your holiday.
*Disclaimer: None of the information here is intended as legal advice and therefore the author accepts no responsibility.