Using a Metal Detector on the Beach

A detectorist searching on a beach [image is unrelated to this story]

It’s always important to know the rules if you’re a metal detectorist.  While the hobby of finding treasure can feel like innocent fun, there are often procedures put in place to ensure order, as well as protect people, property, and the environment.

And in a South East England county called Surrey, a 34-year-old man found this out the hard way.  Sadly, his wallet is considerably lighter because of his choices.

Two years ago, Ricky Smith discovered a Penannular gold ring presumably from the Bronze Age on a Surrey bridle path.  From that point forward, Smith’s find would become a significant pain point in his life.

First, Smith contacted the Surrey County Council’s Finds Liaison Department (in fact, their website states that if you have “found an object which you think should be recorded, please contact Surrey’s finds specialist David Williams, Finds Liaison Officer”).

Smith stated that he had found the ring within a private estate in England called Cranleigh, and was then told that he needed to report his discovery of the ring to the country’s coroner (something that must be done within 14-days thanks to the Treasure Act, which will be discussed later).  Smith stated, days later, that he would report the unearthed ring to the neighboring Sussex council—but that did not happen. 

Because of this inaction, Smith’s golden historical discovery was seized from his house.

Later, it was discovered that Smith had contacted a museum in Sussex (a historic county located in South East England) but had failed to report the ring to the coroner.  This inaction was in breach of the aforementioned 14-day gap that’s granted by the Treasure Act 1996 legislation.  In fact, failing to report a find is a criminal offense in England (as well as Wales and Northern Ireland), one that’s punishable by up to 3 months behind bars and a fine of up to £5,000.

Smith’s punishment wasn’t that strict, however.  He was ordered to pay a £300 fine, £200 for court costs, and a £30 victim surcharge at West Surrey Magistrates’ Court.  Smith’s fine, a total of £530, was later reduced to an unspecified number.

But this should serve as a lesson.  Whether you’re hunting for civil war relics in America, or hoping to find gold rings from the Bronze Age in England, always be knowledgeable of the local rules or laws of the region you’re searching and detecting.  You don’t want to have to be stuck paying for a mistake that could’ve been avoided with a little research.