Can I Metal Detect in Rivers?

The UK has a rich history, making it a haven for metal detectorists. From forests and parks, to beaches and rivers, you’re sure to find plenty of treasures! But there are regulations you need to follow to avoid unnecessary trouble with local authorities and landowners. 

Below, I’ll go into a bit more detail about metal detecting laws in the UK, and how they apply specifically to rivers as well as other bodies of water and beaches. 

What Are the Metal Detecting Laws in the UK?

What makes the UK such an appealing place for metal detectorists isn’t just the history, but the relaxed regulations. You can look for any type of archaeological finds in the UK with a permit, and it’s relatively easy to obtain a permit in the UK. They also tend to be valid for a considerable amount of time.

The most important thing to remember is that most land is privately owned. This means you will also need permission from the landowner, but as long as you are friendly and reasonable, the landowner should be too and let you use their land.

But remember that when using your metal detector on private land, any valuable object you may find will need to be shared with the landowner. Museums also have the right to acquire your finds if they are of historical interest. If you keep the find to yourself, you could be fined or even face jail time if the find is valuable. 

Metal detecting is governed by The Treasure Act, which states that any metallic object, except for coins, is made up of at least ten percent in weight of any precious metal, and the item must be over 300 years old to be classified as a treasure.

Metal detectorists who detect illegally without a permit are not going to benefit from the rules of The Treasure Act, and those who do break the law may have their equipment and finds confiscated, as well as face a hefty fine as well as a prison sentence.

Metal Detecting in Rivers

The answer to our original question is yes, you can metal detect in rivers, and you absolutely should! It’s an excellent place to go metal detecting, especially in June and July.

If you want to explore some rivers, you of course need to get a waterproof metal detector. As always, keep in mind that riverbeds are usually owned by private landowners. Therefore, don’t go wading in until you get permission from the landowner to enter the river. What makes rivers even trickier to detect is that multiple owners can share ownership of a stretch of a river.

Some of the best UK rivers to visit is the River Stour in East Anglia, the East Lyn River in Exmoor, the River Wye in Mid-Wales, the River Itchen in Hampshire, the River Trent in Staffordhsire, the River Wharfe in Yorkshire, and the River Dart in Devon.

Metal Detecting Underwater

Underwater detecting is a popular way to go metal detecting, and this is because of the many shipwrecks around the UK.

However, it is illegal to remove any material from protected wreck sites and marine vessels that are considered war graves. You also need to report all of your wreck finds to the Receiver of Wreck, even if it is just a piece of wood, a coin, or a porthole. 

The Wreck of the Halsewell is a popular wreck site for underwater detectorists. It is located 3 miles west of the Swanage Lighthouse, just between Anvil Point and St. Albans Head, in 1 to 10 metres of water. The ship was destroyed by cliffs and so the wreck is scattered in many pieces.

The artifacts and cargo of the ship are also spread over a large area, which explains why it’s such a big draw for detectorists. Due to how scattered the wreck is, not a lot of things have been recovered yet.

The Royal Charter Wreck located on the east coast of Anglesey is another popular location for underwater detecting. It is said to include luxury accommodation as well as a large consignment of gold that has never been found. Many local detectorists try their luck there!

Metal Detecting on Beaches

Surprisingly, detection activities on UK beaches can happen without a permit. The Home Office got rid of licenses for beach detecting in 1980, but it is still required for some beaches.

If you want to use a metal detector on a public beach, then you will need permission from the local authority. Meanwhile, you will need to pay a fee to detect on any of the River Thames beaches that are within the boundaries of London.

Some of the best beaches in the UK are Watergate Bay in Newquay, Saunton Sands, Pentle Bay in Tresco, Porthcurno near Land’s End, Blackpool Sands, West Wittering in Chichester, Studland Bay in Dorset, Compton Bay in the Isle of Wight, Botany Bay in Kent, Walberswick in Southwold, Whitstable Beach, Brancaster Bay in Norfolk, and Pentle Bay in Cornwall.

Before you head to these beaches make sure to check the rules regarding permits.

What Can You Expect To Find?

The UK is one of the best places to discover highly valuable finds, thanks to its rich history and relaxed regulations regarding metal detecting.

You can uncover all the usual finds such as jewellery, belt buckles, bottle caps, coins, trinkets as well as many other unusual, unique items.

Finds include a large stash of Roman coins in Herefordshire, an extensive collection of Anglo-Saxon and Norman coins in Buckinghamshire as well as a collection of Viking jewellery in North Yorkshire.

Did you know that England boasts more treasures every year than any other country in the world? In fact, in the last three years it’s believed that the county of Norfolk was home to 116 finds each year, while Essex had 71 finds, Suffolk had 65, and Lincolnshire had 59 finds.

So whether you’re searching for finds in the UK’s rivers, beaches, or even their shipwrecks, you’re likely to find something! Just remember to ask the permission of landowners, check what permits you need, and to report any finds to the relevant authorities. 



Written by Gavin Bowler

Keen history and blogging enthusiast. I love metal detecting. Read more of Gavin's articles.