HERITAGE bosses are urging amateur metal detectorists to learn about basic archaeology to avoid damaging any treasures they find or disturbing ancient historical sites.

A new report has encouraged closer collaboration between Scotland’s amateur metal detecting community and professionals, amid concern over the extent of their activities.

Experts are said to have become exasperated by treasure hunters looking for 'bling' items, such as Bronze Age axes, Roman artefacts and ancient coins brooches, gold and jewellery.

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There were also claims of some hobbyists straying into sites designated Scheduled Monuments, such as battlefields where unauthorised digging is prohibited, and organised 'treasure hunt' holidays taking place in the North East.

The report advises hobby metal detectorists to learn basic archaeology, such as how to mark the site of a find using global position, and to leave the spadework to the professionals.

However, it also recognises that amateurs are often at the sharp end of important discoveries and pays tribute to the contribution they have made in uncovering the past.

The report said that there were more than 520 hobby metal detectorists in Scotland, most of them aged men aged between 45 and 55-years-old.

All finds in Scotland must be reported to the Treasure Trove Unit (TTU), who investigate and assess objects and decide whether to pay their discoverer.

The TTU’s Dr Natasha Ferguson, who heads up the project, said: "The metal detecting community in Scotland finds and reports hundreds of objects every year to the Treasure Trove Unit, some of which are of national or even international importance.

"However, even with the best intentions some artefacts can be damaged, or sensitive archaeology disturbed. We want to ensure artefacts discovered through recreational activities like metal detecting are recovered carefully and a detailed find spot recorded so important archaeological information is not lost.

“The intention of the project is primarily to raise awareness of best practice when metal detecting, and to ensure the appropriate support and guidance is available to detectorists. The enthusiasm and expertise of the metal detecting community makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s heritage sector, and we want to help to maximise its potential."

The report found that only half of detectorists use GPS devices to accurately record find-spots, and that the average length of participation in the hobby is nine years.

Metal detecting group outings are a preferred means of pursuing the hobby, with an average of between 20 and 40 attendees at each organised ‘dig’.

The areas with the highest recorded activity of metal detecting in Scotland were Perth and Kinross, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Scottish Borders.

Kevin Munro, Senior Designations Officer for Historic Environment Scotland, said: “Anecdotally, we seem to be seeing an increase in the numbers of people participating in metal detecting in Scotland, perhaps due to a number of high profile finds by detectorists in Britain in the past decade.

"We know that detectorists have a great interest in history, and we hope that the project will help us to ensure that they are aware of the appropriate processes for reporting finds when they are discovered.

“So the aim of the project is to bring these groups together in order to generate closer collaboration, to iron out the current underlying issues, and to try to improve and encourage best practice. It’s very encouraging to see that there is an appetite amongst all parties to improve engagement and to increase collaboration – which can only be to the benefit of our understanding of Scotland’s past in the long run.”