It’s Friday! Not only have I survived work for another week, but i’m still at least two months from unemployment. Huzzah!

So here’s a quick round up of news and gossip for the week…

New guidance for metal detecting rallies issued
Marine and Coastal Access bill in Committee Stage
Icenian gold coin hoard found in Suffolk
The future of HERs ‘at risk’

New guidance for metal detecting rallies issued

The Council for British Archaeology (CBA), English Heritage, Assocaition of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), Society of Museum Archaeologists (SMA) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) – whew… that’s a mouthful – have agreed a Guidance Note for metal detecting rallies that is ‘designed to limit the impact on the archaeological record’. A copy can be found here.

Marine and Coastal Access bill in Committee Stage

This bill will have some affect on using or interacting with wrecks and wreck sites, as well as heritage that now lies under water. There is some question about how this Bill will interact with the Hertiage Protection Bill (if the later ever happens), but hopefully all will be well. I have to admit I haven’t ploughed my way through this yet, but a copy of the Marine Bill can be found here.

Icenian gold coin hoard found in Suffolk

In October 2008 a hoard of 824 gold ‘staters’ were recovered from a field in Suffolk. The news sites are making much of the value when they were minted, but what of their value today? Most people are disappointed to find out that whilst you might get £500 each for one of these (which would give you £412,000) digging up so many in one go rather devalues them. I have absolutely no experience in the area, but I’m guessing they will be valued at less than that.

The question is, will Suffolk get to keep them (if their local Museum Service can find the cash), or will the big old British Museum steal them first? The BM gets first dibs on any treasure-trove items, rather than the local museums, so it’s up to them to decide whether they want the coins before the local museums get a chance. And if no one has the money (which in this climate would not be a massive surprise), I wonder whether the hoard will go on the market?

If it does, it might get a considerable amount more than the official valuation. And if that happens, whilst it’s good for the finder, it might have bad repercussions for the museums and ultimately for the public. If the hoard, or any other similar item, gets a high price, then that will need to be taken into account when the next hoard comes up for valuation. And if the valuation gets pushed up, that reduces the chances of any museums (particularly the local ones) being able to afford to buy the next hoard. The upshot of all this is – less spectacular finds in museums for everyone to see, more commodetisation of heritage and its restriction to the rich.

The future of HERs ‘at risk’

The government has been working to phase out two-tier councils (that’s places with both county and city, or county and borough councils) and replace them with single authorities (hence the rather contentioius unitary authorities). Well, there’s no official policy towards this, but that seems to be the way the wind is blowing.

As a result, there’s some jockeying around of specialist positions (be that health or social care workers or HER officers), and increasing pressure from government for councils to cut spending. And of course, there’s the never-ending spread of ‘pay reviews’ in process in local and central government organisations across the country. It’s not surprising therefore that some of the HERs are starting to feel the pressure – there’s nothing like having a suit ask you to justify your job to give anyone the heeby-jeebies.

The question is, what will happen? Current thought is that HER resources (by that they mean jobs) will be cut, which will mean enough manpower to staff the HER for queries (after all, it’s necessary for the planning process) but no staffing to update the databases. That shouldn’t have a massive effect over the short term (2 years or so), as there are a good number of HERs currently running with backlogs anyway and surviving okay, but any longer than that is likely to see significant detrimental effects to the usefulness of the HERS, and hence to the resources available to those who are trying to protect and preserve cultural heritage from massive ugly building works.

So we shall all have to wait with baited breath to see if anyone comes up with a rescue package for the ailing HERs. Of course, where that money might come from is unknown considering current pressures…

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