How to find trea­sure (but avoid pri­son)

The Daily Telegraph - Your Money - - MONEY -

Who hasn’t dreamed of stum­bling across a price­less piece of trea­sure that not only turns you into an overnight mil­lion­aire but se­cures your place in the his­tory books?

Ama­teur trea­sure hunt­ing has never been more pop­u­lar. Metal de­tec­tors can be bought for as lit­tle as £20 on­line, while tele­vi­sion pro­grammes such as De­tec­torists, writ­ten by The Of­fice star Macken­zie Crook, has brought the joys of dig­ging around in mud to a new au­di­ence.

Ama­teur “mud­lark” David Hid­dle­stone has a per­mit to dig up to 3in into the Thames. He’s found 17th­cen­tury lead seals and to­kens used by the Knights Tem­plar, thought to be nearly 1,000 years old.

He said: “It takes you back in time. To pick up some­thing some­one else dropped hun­dreds of years ago is amaz­ing.” Other ama­teurs have been even more suc­cess­ful. In 2008 lorry driver Michael Darke found a trove of Iron Age gold coins in a field in Suf­folk. The hoard, worth £300,000, was the most sig­nif­i­cant for a cen­tury.

Yet the rules around what hap­pens to trea­sure af­ter it has been dis­cov­ered are an­cient and com­plex. Fail­ing to re­port finds can land hunters with an un­lim­ited fine and even a pri­son sen­tence.

As news broke that ar­chae­ol­o­gists work­ing on Lon­don’s new “su­per sewer” had un­earthed a 500-year-old skeleton in knee-high boots, Tele­graph Money dis­patched re­porters to the banks of the Thames to find out how to

Ama­teur trea­sure hunt­ing is boom­ing, but the rules are com­pli­cated, find Sam Brod­beck and Sam Barker

trea­sure hunt with­out end­ing up in a cell in the Tower of Lon­don.

Jane Sidell, in­spec­tor of an­cient mon­u­ments at His­toric Eng­land, ex­plained that the treat­ment of ob­jects you have found de­pended on sev­eral fac­tors in­clud­ing where the dis­cov­ery was made, who owns the land and whether it meets the baf­fling le­gal def­i­ni­tion of “trea­sure”.

What counts as trea­sure?

Trea­sure is any metal ob­ject at least 300 years old and con­tain­ing at least 10pc pre­cious metal. If this ob­ject is a coin, you need to have found at least two. If coins have less than 10pc pre­cious metal, they are con­sid­ered to be trea­sure in groups of 10 or more.

Pre­his­toric ob­jects are trea­sure even if the pre­cious metal con­tent is less than 10pc – and, if you find two or more pre­his­toric metal ob­jects in the same place, these are trea­sure re­gard­less of what the metal is. If the items are less than 300 years old but con­tain gold and sil­ver, you must re­port them if they were de­lib­er­ately hid­den with no clear owner.

Any­thing you find next to these items be­comes trea­sure too. If you think you have found trea­sure, you must in­form the lo­cal coro­ner’s of­fice within 14 days. They will value it and try to sell it to a mu­seum. You may then be re­warded up to the item’s full value if you own the land it was found on. If not, the re­ward could be up to 50pc of the item’s value. This will not be sub­ject to in­come tax but ut may in­cur cap­i­tal gains tax (CGT) on fig­ures above £11,700, the an­nual ex­empt amount.

Cu­ri­ously, if you are lucky enough to find gold sov­er­eigns, these are ex­empt from CGT.

River, field or beach

All land is owned by some­one and you’ll need to get per­mis­sion from them em be­fore search­ing. Any money made d from finds is nor­mally shared be­tween landowner and fin­der.

There are spe­cial rules gov­ern­ing cer­tain pro­tected ar­eas, known as “sched­uled mon­u­ments”, where you can al­most never dig or de­tect. To do so with­out per­mis­sion risks a fine or pri­son sen­tence. On the Thames, these in­clude the launch­way of the Great East­ern, Isam­bard King­dom Brunel’s gi­gan­tic steamship, and the shore out­side the Old Royal Naval Col­lege in Green­wich.

Ex­perts en­cour­age hunters to re­port their finds to the Por­ta­ble An­tiq­ui­ties Scheme, part of the Bri­tish Mu­seum. These are recorded on an on­line data­base and used by ar­chae­ol­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans.

It can be hard to know what’s worth re­port­ing. For in­stance, parts of the Thames fore­shore are cov­ered in clay pipes and Vic­to­rian pot­tery. Such finds do not need to be re­ported. ed.

The Thames has its own wn pe­cu­liar­i­ties. The fore­shore ore in the cap­i­tal is owned by y the Port of Lon­don Au­thor­ity, y, which is­sues two types of f per­mit. A stan­dard per­mit it al­lows dig­ging to 3in and d costs £77 a year. A full mud­lark k per­mit al­lows dig­ging to 4ft but can be is­sued only to a mem­ber of the Thames Mud­lark So­ci­ety, which has its own en­try re­quire­ments. nts.

Ob­jects re­cov­ered from coastal beaches are gov­erned rned dif­fer­ently again. As with finds else­where, the first test is whether it is trea­sure. If not, there’s a good chance it wi will be clas­si­fied as “wreck” ma­te­rial, per­haps from a sunk sunken ship. Wreck ma­te­rial fa falls into four quaint­ly­named cat­e­gories: fl flot­sam, jetsam, derelict and la­gan. If you find any­thing you think might be w wreck, you have 28 da days to re­port it to the Rec Re­ceiver of Wreck, Ali­son Kentu Ken­tuck. There are up to 400 such h re­ports ev­ery year, cover­ing thou­sands of items. If you don’t de­clare your dis­cov­ery you could be fined £2,500 for each un­de­clared find, or have to pay the right­ful owner twice the value of each item you have taken.

‘To pick up some­thing dropped hun­dreds of years ago is amaz­ing’

For­tu­nately, peo­ple who de­clare wrecks are likely to get a re­ward for it. Ms Ken­tuck said: “A le­git­i­mate salvor is un­likely to be left emp­ty­handed.” If no one claims the wreck within 12 months, there is a chance it will be re­turned to you. The most well well-pub­li­cised pub­lici case of this kind hap­pened in 2007, when the con­tain con­tainer ship MSC Napoli ran aground ag off the Devon coast. The Napoli’s cargo washed up on nearby beaches. Amazed lo­cals walked off with bounty in­clud­ing new BMW mo­torc mo­tor­cy­cles, lux­ury face cream and empty em wine casks. Pol Po­lice at first tol­er­ated the be be­hav­iour, then be­gan to sto stop it. How­ever, all those who de­clared their finds wer were later al­lowed to keep thei their sal­vage.

Jane Sidell, in­spec­tor of an­cient mon­u­ments, tells Sam Brod­beck how to trea­sure hunt; an East In­dia Com­pany coin, be­low; a 17th-cen­tury Bel­larmine bot­tle neck, bot­tom

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