A long awaited survey of "nighthawking" in England and Wales is out. Archaeological groups say that the survey proves that enforcement of Britain's laws is lax and that there should be more regulation, including making sellers "prove" they have good title to artifacts they sell on such Internet sales platforms as "eBay." See: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article5741078.ece and http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/feb/16/looting-antiquities-uk-heritage and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/4630587/Metal-detector-thieves-are-plundering-our-history-English-Heritage-warns.html
Here is what English Heritage specifically states should be done:
Key recommendations of The Nighthawking Survey:
Provide clear guidance to the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates on the impact of nighthawking on archaeological records and understanding, how to identify that it has taken place, how to collect evidence for prosecution and appropriate penalties;
Provide guidance to landowners on identifying nighthawking and what to do when they encounter;
Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title; urge eBay to introduce more stringent monitoring of antiquities with a UK origin offered for sale on their website, as they have done in Germany, Switzerland and Austria;
Establish a central database of reported nighthawking incidents and promote its use;
Raise awareness of the positive effects of responsible metal detecting and the negative effects of nighthawking;
Reaffirm the contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme and support its continued operation; and
Encourage the integration of metal detecting into archaeological work.
In my opinion, before decisions on any such action is taken, the results of this survey need to be placed in context. For example, if anything, it appears that nighthawking has declined as compared to the last survey in 1995. See: http://www.finds.org.uk/wordpress/?p=680 ("The Report shows that Nighthawking seems to have declined on two counts compared with an earlier survey in 1995, although there is still a significant problem with Nighthawking down the eastern side of England from Yorkshire through Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex.").
In any event, even assuming nighthawking is underreported, based on the large numbers of artifacts properly reported and recorded under the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, most metal detectorists in England and Wales appear to follow the law. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/11/more-success-for-treasure-act-and-pas.html
Contrast this to the situation in places like Cyprus, Italy and Bulgaria with no laws akin to the Treasure Act or Portable Antiquities Scheme. It would be interesting to learn how many artifacts are voluntarily reported to the authorities in those countries. Before the UK's Government proposes changes to English and Welsh law based on this survey, it should keep in mind that overregulation may actually discourage rather than encourage compliance.