Saving our Heritage


Human occupation of the land surface of England has a history stretching back at least 500,000 years to Boxgrove Man, whose bones have been found in the County of West Sussex. In East Sussex, we have the site of the Battle of Hastings that transformed the political landscape from Anglo-Saxon to Norman. Across the landscape of England are prehistoric monuments, religious buildings, stately homes, parks, wildlife reserves, buried treasure, swords and armour, ancient boats, and castles.

Thus we have a rich heritage. Should we take care of it as something precious, or treat it as irrelevant? Sussex Heritage Community is a small organisation dedicated to promoting heritage preservation by using anti-crime strategies and scientific information to ensure that as much heritage as possible is preserved for current and future generations.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

You may have a positive view about your landscape and the heritage treasures in it, but criminals see the world in different way. How much money can be made from stealing lead from a church roof? Maybe this Roman site will have some buried coins we can dig up and sell online? It could be that someone long ago has cast a sword into a lake as an offering to a water god – maybe we can find the weapon using magnets – probably worth a fortune? We’ve just seen on the local news that archaeologists have found an amazing site where ancient communities buried their dead. Let’s creep up at night using infrared torches and steal the shield bosses and broach pins we can find using our metal detectors. Surely, they will be attractive to private buyers – after all that single gold mancus coin found in 1908, with the image of King Offa of Mercia (who ruled from 757 to 796 CE) on it, is worth half a million pounds sterling sterling ($700,000). So when we think of our wonderful heritage, we do need to be aware that to go on seeing it, generation after generation, we need care for it and protect it. We need to be vigilant – and use an actively caring but also scientific approach.

To ensure that the public is informed, our Sussex Heritage Community team have written guides showing the dangers of heritage crime and ways that these crimes can be reduced or halted, using sensible safe strategies.

The guides we have published so far are:

Advice to Church Wardens – how to protect the structure and contents of ancient and modern churches. Thieves will be after removable assets: roof lead, stained glass windows, paintings of religious scenes and icons, chalices, tapestries, collection boxes, carvings, and attractive gravestones. Church Wardens view their buildings as places of worship loved by their community, yet thieves look at each church as place that can be systematically stripped of its holy identity for profit. Some English country churches have been robbed repeatedly for their replaced lead roofs because thieves know that insurance companies will bear the cost of restitution, and the parish will bear the cost of increased insurance premiums.

Guide for the Protection of Museums and Galleries – explaining the types of security systems that might help to prevent theft and damage to exhibits and display areas. Criminals will look for a wide range of saleable items, such as coins, ancient skulls, clothing, swords, shields, spears, chain mail, helmets, paintings, ceramics, stone idols, flint arrowheads, palaeolithic hand axes and scrapers and fossils. Many smaller items are usually protected by glass cases, so thieves come equipped with glass cutters and mechanical grabbers to lift the items off the shelves. Items are often stolen to order to satisfy the cravings of rich criminals.

A Night in the Museum can be profitable. Theft from art galleries can produce vast wealth for the criminal – a single stolen Klimt, Raphael, Caravaggio, Monet, or Van Gogh will produce enough money to ensure lifelong retirement.

Guide to the Prevention of Illicit Metal Detecting – revealing the kinds of ground damage that shows that illegal activity has taken place and how to conduct safe and legal metal detecting, with the reporting of finds to County authorities. Ne’re-do-wells will visit ancient monument sites looking for coin hoards and buried weapons. The County Archaeologist Finds Officer will never see these – they will be sold for a fortune. In the early 1800s, someone digging in a field at Sedlescombe in East Sussex found the contents of the ancient Saxon Mint of Hastings – it had been buried in a panic in the autumn of 1066, when the moneyer (coin-maker) realised that Duke William the Conqueror had landed with thousands of Norman troops. This find was promptly stolen and is now in the hands of private collectors (numismatists) all over the world. Since then, laws have been introduced to try and ensure that coin hoards are evaluated by the authorities and compensation paid to finders. But the illegal metal-detectorist will hope to get far more money by selling online than is ever paid in compensation by a Finds Officer.

Guide to the Prevention of Illegal Magnet fishing – detailing the dangers to health from exceptionally powerful neodymium magnets, and how to comply with laws covering activity in areas of conserved water such as lakes, wells, ditches, and the sea. Robbers using high powered magnets can remove very large and valuable objects from river and lakes. However, the magnets they use are so powerful: a pair of neodymium magnets set a distance apart will suddenly fly together with such force that any mistakes could result in the loss of fingers and even a smashed hand.

Guide to the Protection of Archaeological Sites – showing archaeologists how to protect their sites during ongoing digs, and in the longer term, and how to ensure valuable finds are not stolen. Here, those who wish to rob are interested in stealing the site equipment, such as ground radar kit, as well as the items that are in the ground.

Guide to the Protection of Open Sites – making the public aware that they can volunteer to monitor sites such as hill forts, long barrows, castles, prehistoric encampments and standing stones. Open sites are the most difficult to protect – maybe you have time to do the occasionally patrol or to report damage to a heritage organisation near you – to save further deterioration? Perhaps you could even set up your own local protection group, giving them training on what to look out for?


It seems to be the case that when universities write academic books, for example, about heritage locations or archaeological techniques, the crime and protection elements are omitted. There is no mindset yet, which links heritage destruction to heritage prevention.

Those who are attracted to heritage items are divided into four types – those who take the items and sell them for personal profit, those who steal the items and keep them for private satisfaction, those who don’t care and just want to smash history using vandalism and graffiti – and you, the kind of person who cares deeply for history and heritage.

Sussex Heritage Community hopes to wake up the community to the ways in which so much damage can be done if there is no properly constructed plan to prevent heritage loss.

See and download these FREE guides from our website:

Or email us at:

Daryl Holter & David Dennis LCGI RAF

Sussex Heritage Community

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Daryl Holter