Police are warning metal detector users, after English Heritage staff discovered a spate of illegal metal detecting at a nationally important archaeological site in the Warminster area.

English Heritage staff recently visited the Scheduled Monument in the town, where they noticed evidence of ground disturbance similar to the type made by metal detectorists.

It is believed that this heritage crime is not an isolated incident, with further holes thought to have been dug over the Christmas period.

The archaeology of the Warminster and Westbury area includes many important sites such as Battlesbury Hill, Cley Hill, Bratton Camp and Scratchbury Hill, all Iron Age hillforts over 2000 years old.

Inspector Lindsey Winter said: “Many protected archaeological sites in Wiltshire are very popular places, but to hear that people are visiting these sites with the intention of stealing from the land is extremely disappointing.

“The general public need to understand that illegal metal detecting is an offence, and that those people visiting sites for this purpose are not welcome.

“Wiltshire Police is working with English Heritage in relation to such matters and we will be dealing robustly with anyone we find committing offences.”

Illicit metal detecting, also known as ‘night hawking’, is a form of theft, but those involved should not be confused with responsible metal detector users who follow good practice guidelines and record and report all their finds.

National Trust archaeologist Martin Papworth said: "This recent activity is of great concern. We have no idea what has been taken and the archaeological understanding and context of each item has now been lost."

Under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979, it is an offence for a person to use a metal detector in a protected place in England without the consent of English Heritage.

Mark Harrison, Policing and Crime Advisor for English Heritage, added: "The practice of illegal metal detecting and stealing artefacts from the ground is an issue that English Heritage takes very seriously.

“These are not people enjoying a hobby, nor professionals carrying out a careful study. Any objects removed belong to the landowner, and the history that is being stolen belongs to all of us.

“The theft of ancient artefacts robs us of important information about our heritage, and the artefacts themselves are lost to the public.

“English Heritage will continue to work closely with our partners in preventing heritage crime and ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice.”

Anyone with information should contact English Heritage on 0117 975 0700.