The legal status of Magnet Fishing in Belgium (and the Netherlands, the UK and France sofar)

This post started out as a summary and explanation of the laws concerning magnet fishing in Flanders. In the meantime it has grown to encompass not just Flanders, but several other countries as well, with as many as possible to come.

I’ll start this process of expansion Flandricentral (I just made that up), using Flanders as the centre. The Roestrukkers are based in Flanders, after all. So I’ll start covering Northwest Europe, and we’ll see where that takes us.

Please note: I’m not a lawyer. I’m not responsible for wrong interpretations of the laws (although I provide direct links to the literal law where possible), outdated versions or differing local rules or court precedents. Please notify me of any mistakes or left out additions you know of to keep this list as complete as possible through the contact page.

Also note: This post is non-judgmental. I’m not telling anyone what to do or not to do, we’re all responsible grown-ups here (except if you’re a kid, in which case GO PLAY OUTSIDE). However, if you don’t comply with the local laws when magnet fishing, you’re on your own.

These are the laws concerning magnet fishing as of 26/01/2019. (Quick summary below for each country, scroll down or click on the country for the complete explanation and links to the legal texts)


FLANDERS

  • Illegal without the proper recognition (erkenning metaaldetectorist) by Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen
  • Must comply with the ‘Code van Goede Praktijk voor Archeologie en Metaaldetectie’
  • Forbidden in waters governed by De Vlaamse Waterweg (and there’s quite a few of those)
  • Gain permission of property owner or administrator

WALLONIA

  • Legal when not actively seeking out historically important items
  • Permission required for archeological searches; permission depends on several factors, mainly the location

BRUSSELS-CAPITAL REGION

  • Info to come soon

THE NETHERLANDS

  • Illegal. Simple, right?

THE UNITED KINGDOM

  • Legal, as long as you follow the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales
  • Don’t piss off the Queen. Not kidding here, see the full explanation below

FRANCE

  • Legal, but check with the local authorities (la Mairie, police office,…) beforehand out of courtesy
  • Illegal if you look for objects of prehistoric, historic, artistic or archeological interest, in which case you need a specific authorization of the local prefecture

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FLANDERS

 

Erkend metaaldetectorist

First off, and most importantly, you need your badge ‘Erkend metaaldetectorist’, which you can apply for at Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen: Procedure ‘erkenning metaaldetectorist’

Magnet fishing is regulated by this government institution, and falls under the laws concerning metal detection. Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen (OEV) tries hard to make the rules complete and clear, and the ‘Code van Goede Praktijk voor Archeologie en Metaaldetectie’ has been expanded a bit recently to include more rules concerning magnet fishing specifically, which was necessary.

You see, before (in 2017 or so), the rules only said: ‘A magnet is also a metal detector’. The end. This implied you had to adhere to all the rules concerning metal detection, which were very clearly defined. However, they only governed finds in soil, layers of soil, digging, preserving,… Nothing related to water finds, at all. So yeah, pretty pointless.

Now, though, there’s at least a few more sentences which say that ‘water’ is also a source of archeological finds, and stuff like that. It’s still too vague, but it’s a really good start.

So, you need that badge. You go magnet fishing anywhere (except perhaps on your own property) without it: you’re in violation. OEV has the option to prosecute, but they are more keen on sensibilization before they prosecute, so they’re more likely to inform you how it should be done in the future than to give you a fine. Keep in mind they have that option, though.

Applying for the badge is free and easy, and there’s no reason not to do so. You will need to conform to the ‘Code van Goede Praktijk voor Archeologie en Metaaldetectie’, which is inherent to our hobby, in my opinion: Code van goede Praktijk

For more information, check out the website of OEV, which is quite clear, complete and easy to read, really useful for anything related top magnet fishing.

Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen

Owner’s permission

Before you’re off to go magnet fishing with your badge in a convenient flip-out wallet to show it off proudly, you need permission of the owner of the waterway, or the government instance responsible for those waters. Most of the time, if it’s not a private owner, it’s either the VMM or De Vlaamse Waterweg.

The VMM doesn’t really make a lot of problems about this in my experience, neither do most private owners. De VlaamseWaterweg is something else though..

 

De Vlaamse Waterweg governs all navigable waterways in Flanders, so chances are high you need their permission. However, they don’t ‘allow it’: Oeverrecreatie

It’s their view that any waterway in Flanders that existed (sic) ‘since the world wars’ (legally, this means every waterway that has existed ànd has been unchanged since 1914 at least) is possibly polluted with unexploded ordnance. So, they (sic) ‘don’t allow it’. As someone who has charted pretty much every known battle and firefight, small and large (from squad-based gunfights to large scale invasions), of all modern wars and conflicts (and a large part of pre-modern wars as well) in Flanders, I have a pretty good know-how of which rivers, canals and streams have seen conflict. It really takes little time to chart all the battles, sieges, fights, air raids and artillery barrages from the past 100 years. Cross-reference that with the range limits of artillery of those days, calibres of ordnance and all that, and you can actually get a good picture of possible hazard zones. Trust me: it warrants some caution, yes, but not a complete prohibition.

Whether this is a complete prohibition, whether they have the authority to apply said prohibition, whether they have the authority to maintain such a prohibition and perform identity and permit checks, and whether they have the authority to prosecute, is all unclear and completely not transparent. However, from studying the legal texts, their founding documents and some other official sources that describe the tasks, obligations and responsibilities of De Vlaamse Waterweg, they do have this authority.

Basically, they have the right (and the task) to exploit the waterways they govern, and are free to do so in any way they see fit, and to forbid any activity on their waters. If they catch you doing something they formally don’t allow, they can send this to the police, who will write a ‘PV’  (Proces Verbaal, basically the start of either a fine or other legal sanctions, like a law-suit for example).

This info is pretty hard to come by, because of the organization’s bad transparancy, but the legal texts are clear, and any judge will follow those if the need arises. So, their prohibition is legal, and can have consequences. Contact me if you’d like these documents, they are public and I will share them gladly.

There is one exception: you can go magnet fishing in their waters with an ‘erkenning’ as metaaldetectorist, as long as it concerns a licensed research, asked for by De Vlaamse Waterweg (this latest addition ‘asked for by De Vlaamse Waterweg’ is very recent, it was not on their site on 01/09/2018. Yes, I keep track.)… Obviously, no licenses are issued for archeological research with a magnet by De VlaamseWaterweg, or any other institution for that matter. So in essence it’s a complete prohibition.

So: untill they completely allow magnet fishing in their waters, the Roestrukkers aren’t going anywhere near waters governed by De Vlaamse Waterweg. Pity, because there’s awesome awesome stuff to be found.

Property

The items you find are the property of the owner of the property where you found it. You can, however, agree with the owner to take the items with you for research, or to hand over property to the metal detectorist completely. More information about this on the OEV website.

They have a handy template for this, and for gaining permission to go magnet fishing on someone’s property, which you can also find here: overeenkomst_metaaldetectieblanco

So that’s the legal status of magnet fishing in Vlaanderen in a nutshell. I’m quite open to discussion and feedback about this, so please contact me if you agree or not, and if you have stuff to add!

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WALLONIA

 

 

So, Wallonia took me by surprise..

Wallonia is a bit of the laughing stock in Flanders when it comes to, well, anything. The roads are bad and badly organized, the rules are all taken very loosely, and we think of them a bit as a cross between French and Neanderthals.

I’m just kidding here. Please don’t sue me.

What I mean is, that I expected the rules concerning magnet fishing in Wallonia to be much more loose than in Flanders, and they turned out to be more strict. It must be said though, Wallonia as a large historical significance. At this point in time, they seem ‘behind’ because the economy is worse than in Flanders. But Wallonia has known booming industry in the past, and enormous wealth even before the industrial period. There’s still magnificent castles and strongholds standing, and Wallonia manages to amaze me quite often when I’m studying historical reports.

Avast, to business!

Wallonia has its counterpart of the Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen, called the Agence Wallone du Patrimoine. They have a pretty clear law, called la Code Wallon de l’Aménagement.

The relevant articles are articles 237 to 244, and they’re really pretty interesting. I’ll quote articles 237, 244 and 239 (yes, in that order):

Article 237:

Nul ne peut procéder à des sondages archéologiques ou à des fouilles sans l’autorisation préalable du Gouvernement ou de son délégué.

Article 244:

L’usage des détecteurs électroniques ou magnétiques en vue de procéder à des sondages archéologiques et à des fouilles est interdit.

L’Administration et les titulaires d’une autorisation octroyée conformément à l’article 237 sont seuls autorisés à utiliser des détecteurs électroniques ou magnétiques dans l’espace visé par l’autorisation.

Sur les sites archéologiques, seuls les titulaires visés à l’alinéa 2 pourront être en possession de détecteurs électroniques ou magnétiques.

La publicité concernant les détecteurs électroniques ou magnétiques ne peut faire allusion ni aux sites, ni aux découvertes archéologiques, ni aux trésors.

Article 239:

L’autorisation visée à l’article 237 est relative à un site déterminé. Elle indique les fouilleurs autorisés, les conditions auxquelles son octroi est subordonné ainsi que sa durée. Celle-ci peut être prorogée.

 L’octroi de l’autorisation est subordonné à:

 1° l’intérêt que présentent les fouilles ou les sondages archéologiques;

 2° la compétence, les moyens humains et techniques dont disposent les demandeurs;

 3° la preuve d’un accord avec le propriétaire du site;

 4° un accord entre la Région, le propriétaire du site, l’inventeur et les fouilleurs relatif à la dévolution des biens archéologiques et au dépôt de ceux-ci;

 5° l’obligation d’établir des rapports périodiques sur l’état des travaux et un rapport final à déposer dans un délai déterminé;

 6° l’engagement de rassembler les biens archéologiques dans des dépôts agréés et accessibles aux chercheurs.

 Les modalités d’agréation des dépôts visés à l’alinéa 2, 6°, sont fixées par le Gouvernement.

So what does all this mean?

First off, article 237 says it’s forbidden to perform archeological surveys without specific governmental permission. You also need that permission to access archeological sites using a metal detector.

Article 244 concerns itsself more with the use of metal detectors, both electronic and magnetic. It’s forbidden to look for archeologically interesting items (if we look at the definition of ‘archeologically interesting’ by Agentschap Onroerend Erfgoed Vlaanderen, we may consider anything up to World War II to be archeologically interesting) using a metal detector. So, if you look for anything else, you should be fine.

A very interesting Wallonian rule is this: Advertising concerning electronic or magnetic detectors can not refer to sites, archeological discoveries or treasures. Cool huh?

On to the governmental permission mentioned in article 237, which is clarified in article 239. This is a bit more complicated, but it comes down to the fact that each permission is handled on a case by case basis. The government mostly takes into account the location of the search, this seems to be the primary argument for granting permission or not.

Furthermore, they look at the applicants competence and resources, archeoligical interest of the site at hand and some less important administrative things (agreements, declaration and timing obligations,…)

To summarize: Wallonia has come up with their own law, and it’s not bad, actually. Magnet fishing is legal as long as you don’t seek out historical items. If you do look for historically important things, you need a permission which depends on several factors, the most important being the location.


 

BRUSSELS CAPITAL-REGION

 

Info to come soon.

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THE NETHERLANDS

 

The Netherlands has a large base of people who go metal detecting , and the many waterways evidently led to magnet fishing finding its roots there. As far as I know, it started around 2009, with a first law (prohibiting magnet fishing) in the same year, and its popularity booming around 2010-2012, because of reports of safes and weapons finds by magnet fishers.

Here’s what I found out about the current law.

On 01/07/2016 the ‘Besluit Erfgoedwet Archeologie’ was published (http://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0037866/2016-07-01), where magnet fishing was covered. Mostly. Just like in Flanders, it mostly covers metal detection, but the rules can actually be applied to magnet fishing as well, and I’m sure a fine judge will.

Here are the relevant articles from the law, in Dutch, which I’ll translate:

‘Artikel 5.1. Opgravingsverbod

  • 1 Het is verboden zonder certificaat daartoe handelingen te verrichten met betrekking tot het opsporen, onderzoeken of verwerven van cultureel erfgoed of onderdelen daarvan, waardoor verstoring van de bodem, of verstoring of gehele of gedeeltelijke verplaatsing of verwijdering van een archeologisch monument of cultureel erfgoed onder water optreedt.
  • 2 Bij of krachtens algemene maatregel van bestuur kunnen gevallen worden geregeld waarop het eerste lid niet van toepassing is. Voor die gevallen kunnen bepaalde onderdelen van dit hoofdstuk worden uitgesloten of van overeenkomstige toepassing worden verklaard.

Artikel 2.2. Metaaldetectoren

  • 1 Het opgravingsverbod in artikel 5.1, eerste lid, van de wet, is niet van toepassing op opgravingen, voor zover deze worden verricht met gebruik van een metaaldetector en waarbij de bodem niet dieper verstoord wordt dan tot dertig centimeter onder het landoppervlak.’

What it says, is that it’s forbidden to search, research and obtain cultural heritage or parts of cultural heritage, if that action disturbs the ‘soil’ (‘bodem’) or if the object in question is moved or removed as a result of that action. What’s unique to magnet fishing, however, is that the ‘detected’ object is per definition moved when it is found. So, this means that magnet fishing is per definition prohibited.

There is one exception, which says that the prohibition doesn’t count for ‘digs’ or finds using a metal detector, if the soil (again, ‘bodem’ in Dutch) is not disturbed deeper than 30 centimetres. For magnet fishing, this complicates things. How do you define the depth of the soil where the item was found? Do you take the water surface as reference? The bottom of the waterway? Do you take into account sludge and mud? Do you consider the edge of the river as measuring point of the depth of the soil?

Luckily, here’s the solution: it’s the official declaration in the Dutch ‘Staatsblad’, concerning the 08/04/2016 heritage law, clarifying that finds under water are not subject to the above exception.

‘Metaaldetectie

Het opgravingsverbod is niet van toepassing op het verrichten van een opgraving met behulp van een metaaldetector tot een beperkte diepte van 30cm onder het maaiveld. Met deze diepte wordt aangesloten bij de gemiddelde dikte van de bouwvoor. Dit deel van de bodem is in de regel als gevolg van grondbewerkingen reeds verstoord. Voorwaarde is dat het niet gaat om voorbeschermde of beschermde rijks-, provinciaal-, of gemeentelijke archeologische monumenten. Daarnaast is de vrijstelling niet aan de orde op terreinen waar professionele opgravingen worden verricht (door een certificaathouder of universiteit of hogeschool). Gemeenten worden voorts in de gelegenheid gesteld om de in dit besluit geregelde uitzondering voor metaaldetectie niet te laten gelden voor (delen) van hun grondgebied, bijvoorbeeld via de Algemene Plaatselijke Verordening. Hiermee wordt aangesloten bij de huidige praktijk waarin gemeenten in voorkomende gevallen metaaldetectieverboden instellen ter bescherming van het bodemarchief.

Vondsten die worden gedaan met behulp van een metaaldetector behoeven niet te worden overgedragen aan het provinciale of gemeentelijke depot. Wel moeten deze vondsten worden gemeld, zodat ze bijdragen aan de kennis van ons verleden.

De uitzondering is alleen van toepassing op land en niet onder water. Archeologische waarden onder water kunnen ook (deels) op de bodem liggen, waarmee er directe schade aan het bodemarchief zou kunnen ontstaan als gevolg van het opgraven van vondsten die gedaan worden met behulp van een metaaldetector.’

 

Now, there are some things which are open for debate. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good law. It’s simple and clear, and the argument is actually pretty good: moving the object removes part of its archeological value. Then again, the longer you leave archeologically interesting items in the water, the higher the chance it will be lost forever due to corrosion or dredging.

This is also in contrast with the opinion of the RCE (RijksdienstvoorCultureelErfgoed) that volunteers (which includes hobby metal detectorists) are valuable to archeology in the Netherlands. (see 2016 publication of the RCE: https://cultureelerfgoed.nl/publicaties/de-kracht-van-vrijwilligers-samenwerking-van-de-gemeente-en-vrijwilligers-in-de)

What’s open for debate here as well, is: what happens when you search for your bicycle in the water with a magnet? It’s not illegal, and you’re not ‘searching for cultural heritage’. So, technically, if you find cultural heritage with your magnet whilst not purposefully looking for such items, it should count as an ‘accidental find’. As if you were walking in a forest and stumbled over an ancient ruin, for example.

Obviously, all this is subject to debate and best suited to decent prosecutors, judges and lawyers, but you catch my drift.

So, remember this, magnet fishing in the Netherlands: forbidden by law.

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THE UNITED KINGDOM

 

I’m not very well-known with UK law, but I did my best to find out what I can.

As far as I know, it is not illegal to go magnet fishing in England and Wales (no info on Scotland and Ulster as of yet). It falls under metal detection, and there are strong guidelines for those who go metal detecting, called the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales, dating from 2017. You can find the full text here: https://finds.org.uk/getinvolved/guides/codeofpractice

It basically says: don’t act like a jerk. Same as in Flanders and the Netherlands, but a bit more liberal. You can’t go detecting on important archeological heritage, and you need to declare your finds.

You also need permission from the owner or proprietor of the property before you go detecting there. When it comes to magnet fishing, this is a bit more complicated. You see: landowners (even civilians) of property adjacent to a river actually own part of that river, all the way to the middle of the river. So, getting permission takes more time and is more tricky.

Also, there’s a difference between a river bed and a sea bed: a sea bed is part of a river that is subject to sea tides. And those parts of the river are by definition governed by the Crown Estate (yes, the Queen), and they specifically do not permit metal detecting in the sea bed. Consider that the Thames in London and the Sever in Gloucester are tidal, this has quite some implications. So: think before you sink (…Yeah, that pun didn’t really go anywhere. You can get your money back at the entrance..)

Now, let’s suppose you’re only going magnet fishing in river beds and not sea beds, and you have all the permissions of the owners you need, there isn’t really anything stopping you. Only the Canal River Trust can harass you slightly: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/safety-on-our-waterways/water-safety-and-magnet-fishing

They are a trust that apparently has some say in what you can and can not do in and around waterways. They advise against magnet fishing (note: this is not a prohibition), and can give you a fine of £ 25.00 for taking stuff out of public waters due to some bylaw. In reality, this organization prefers sensibilizaton and will rarely actually give that fine.

So, quite interesting, all in all! Long story short, magnet fishing in the UK: mostly allowed, as long as you follow the Code of Practice and don’t anger the Canal River Trust. Or the Queen of England.

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FRANCE

 

Ah, the French. They don’t go magnet fishing, they do ‘Pêche à l’aimant’. Brilliant.

Anywho, to business!

Now, my French isn’t spectacular, but I can get by. If I try hard.

Baguette. Camembert. Guillotine, and all that. (Just kidding, I’m pretty multilingual).

What I could find was this law by the Ministry of Culture: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Regions/Drac-Grand-Est/Pole-patrimoines/Archeologie/L-usage-des-detecteurs-de-metaux-soumis-a-autorisation-prefectorale

The relevant text is this:

‘Nul ne peut utiliser du matériel permettant la détection d’objets métalliques, à l’effet de recherches de monuments et d’objets pouvant intéresser la préhistoire, l’histoire, l’art ou l’archéologie, sans avoir, au préalable, obtenu une autorisation administrative délivrée en fonction de la qualification du demandeur ainsi que de la nature et des modalités de la recherche.’

Allow me to translate for the non-French speakers. It’s basically forbidden to search for metal objects if they have any archeologically interesting value. If you wish to do so, you need a ‘prefectural authorization’. So apparently, each prefecture (Think of it as a ‘department’ or even ‘province’. There’s a 101 of them..) can decide to give you authorization or not.

I haven’t been able to find any information on these prefectural permissions and what the requirements are for this. Of course, if there are 101 different ones, I can kind of get it why there’s no single rule.. I suppose you just have to apply for one and see what happens.

Now, remember, this only counts for searching/finding monuments or historically or archeologically interesting items. The law for metal detection is in general more loose than the above restriction. Here’s an interesting link I found, although I must admit I haven’t checked the sources for this yet: http://www.peche-a-laimant.fr/p/reglementation.html

As long as you’re not in violation of the above law (article L. 542-1 due code du patrimoine), you’re free to do what you want, as long as long as you check with the local laws (mayor’s office, police, …) beforehand. They’re usually very easy going about this, apparently. There have been instances of people being forced to leave by some local law men, but those decisions then got revoked by some higher ranking law man.

Yes, my wording isn’t very specific (‘some men’), that’s because I haven’t fact-checked as of the day of writing. If it is correct though, this means that magnet fishing is mostly allowed in France, as long as you don’t go looking for really old stuff.

Some could say this kind of defeats the purpose, but hey. The law is the law. Dura lex sed lex.

Long story short: In France, magnet fishing is allowed as long as you don’t go relic hunting without your local prefectural permission.

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That’s it for now. Hopefully, more countries follow soon. In the meantime, please contact me if you have anything to add or correct!

Spiff, out.

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