With over eight acres of land at my disposal, and buildings dating back to medieval times, I thought it might be fun to get a metal detector and maybe find some long-lost treasure. Prices range from around 110 euros for a basic device and can fetch in excess of 600 euros for a more elaborate one. However, I’ve found it’s not just a case of buying one of those ‘beepy’ machines and getting out on the land. There are laws in place in France if you want to use a metal detector, and these are not particularly clear.
Obtaining a metal detecting license
In order to conduct a search on any land (whether it’s your own or somebody else’s), you need to have the landowner’s permission in writing. Not only that but because your metal detector may find an object which could concern/interest prehistory, art or archaeology, you must get administrative authority, in the form of a licence, from the Prefect of the Region.
The licence will only be granted after your identity, competence, experience, and method of searching have been checked. The Prefect will also look at the location you wish to search, scientific objective and duration of the search you want to carry out… not so simple then! It seems French law is rather ambiguous: I am allowed to go metal detecting on a beach but if I go elsewhere with the intention of finding archaeological treasures, I need a licence.
Some facts to bear in mind regarding French law
Using a metal detector in France is not straightforward, but if you follow the advice underneath, you should be able to avoid unnecessary hassle:
- If you want to go metal detecting near an archaeological site, you will need a licence (issued in your name) by the Prefect of the region. These are normally only issued to professional archaeologists and are for a limited period only. They are also only valid for a single specific site. Once finished, you must provide a final report of your search.
- It is important to assess if the land where the search will take place is privately owned. Public places don’t normally require a specific authorisation, but private landowners must be made aware of your intentions, and are within their right to refuse you access.
- If metal detecting on private land, all your findings automatically belong to the landowner, unless an agreement has been signed between the two parties, in which case you can share your findings.
- The law states that French authorities must be informed in the event of a fortuitous archaeological find outside of an archaeological site, in a place where no previous authorisation was required.
- If you happen to be in the perimeter of an archaeological site without any official intention of searching for historic items, be aware that your presence alone can be considered by the courts to be an offence and you will be charged. Do your homework before setting off!
- A visit to the Mairie of the town where you intend to go metal detecting is a highly advisable step. There are some very specific areas that can be out of bounds and where even recreational searches are forbidden. The Mairie is the heart of any city, town or village in France and should be your first port of call for any questions you may have. You will always get your answers there. Remember to advise them when you move to a new French place too!
So, where does that leave me?
Do I really need to get all this in place just to use a metal detector on my own land? It seems a lot of hassle to go through just for a bit of fun. However, if I don’t take notice of the law, I could get into serious trouble – a fine that can go up to 100 000 euros (or even 7 years in prison in the case of organised looting) and the metal detector could also get confiscated. But if I want to use a metal detector on a beach, that’s ok. How confusing!
This all sounds complicated, but basically it is to protect any historical or archaeological items that might be found… and I guess that as I live in the renovated kitchen of an old Château that was built in 1297, the Château grounds and fields beyond could turn up some old historical artefacts which would be of archaeological interest. So, on reflection, I don’t think I’ll buy one after all. Maybe, a few years down the line, when I have more time on my hands, I’ll get the relevant permissions and go treasure hunting!
Have you ever been metal detecting, in France or elsewhere? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever found whilst metal detecting? Have you had any good / bad experiences? We would love to hear your stories. Please leave us a reply (see below) and let us know.