Landowners and farmers are twitchy about detectorists

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An unassuming gentle comedy has been running on Thursday nights on BBC4 for the past three or four weeks.

Called The Detectorists, it is about two moderately maladjusted men who spend all their spare time in the countryside with metal detectors. I’ve watched only because Mackenzie Crook and Toby Young make human and believable a pastime I’ve always paired with golf as a sad waste of time. But it might have drawn in more viewers since a real-life detectorist unearthed a Viking collection – estimated value well into six figures – in the West of Scotland.

The problem for farmers and landowners is that every such discovery encourages more detectorists to try their luck as a hobby, pastime or obsession, not necessarily asking permission to do so.

It has also apparently been established, at least in Scotland, that without prior agreement the value of a find goes to the finder, not the landholder.

Other questions arise. There is, and I learn something new every day, a National Council of Metal Detecting. Its members will usually be insured. Non-members might not be. Tenant farmers thinking of giving permission to detectorists are also advised to get permission to do that from their landlord. Then, if a big find is made, the Treasure Trove Unit, Edinburgh, should be informed.

Like winning the lottery, we hear about the occasional big winner, but nothing about the millions of hours wasted walking about with head bent over a detector that bleeps frustratingly at tinfoil, old nails and horseshoes, plough metal and lost spanners.

Iceland, food store not country, has produced the latest inflamation in the milk price debate by offering four pints for less than 90p. This is a ludicrously low price. Dairy farmers, who can’t produce milk as cheaply as that much less make a profit and allow processors to make a profit, are protesting.

Farmers for Action has blockaded Iceland distribution centres and also those of several other supermarkets.

I sympathise with dairy farmers now struggling with low milk prices that are driven by a slump in world trade for dairy products. I also sympathise with Farmers for Action and have spoken over the years to many of them on and off the blockade line, including its long-serving chairman David Handley. But by my reckoning they have been protesting for about 15 years now and are no further forward when supermarkets decide to cut prices.

They can do it because of supply and demand. At present there is too much milk being produced in Britain. The average herd size is now 169, about thrice the size of a generation ago. Yield per cow has about doubled.

The same is true round the world. Iceland and others offer milk tap water prices because they can and Farmers for Action can do nothing to stop them.