TREASURE hunters made more than 50 finds in Dorset last year.

The discoveries were among 1,000 such cases across England and Wales and include coins, prehistoric artefacts ad precious metals.

But detectorists have been warned they face a fine or prison sentence if they fail to hand over items they find to the coroner

The British Museum said it was pleasing to see local museums across the country acquiring these “important archaeological objects”, but urged treasure hunters to follow the laws surrounding metal detecting.

In 2019, there were 55 treasure finds reported to Dorset Coroner’s Court, which is responsible for holding treasure inquests.

It means there have been a total of 167 discoveries in the last three years in the area.

Across England and Wales, 1,061 finds were reported last year – six per cent more than the year before.

Lincolnshire was the best area for treasure, with 89 finds last year alone. In contrast, no treasure whatsoever was found in 23 areas.

The Treasure Act, introduced in 1997, defines treasure as discoveries older than 300 years.

These include coins, prehistoric metallic objects and artefacts that are at least 10 per cent precious metal such as gold or silver.

All potential treasure finds are processed by the British Museum, whose experts advise coroners on whether the find fits the definition of treasure.

If a coroner rules that it is treasure, both local and national museums are given the chance to acquire the pieces, and the finder will be paid a sum depending on the treasure’s value.

But if the find is determined not to be treasure, or no museums want it, then it is returned to the treasure hunter.

A Ministry of Justice report on last year’s treasure finds said the number of discoveries has been steadily increasing since the Treasure Act commenced – rising from just 54 finds in 1997.

There were 380 inquests concluded last year, with more than 90 per cent returning a verdict of treasure.

Ian Richardson, treasure registrar at the British Museum, said: “The purpose of the Treasure Act is to enable important archaeological objects to be acquired by museums, for the benefit of all.

“It is pleasing to see local museums interested in acquiring a number of these finds if they are declared Treasure.”

Anyone fortunate enough to discover something they think is treasure must report their finding to the coroner within two weeks, so the court can hold an inquest to decide who should get the to keep it.

Failure to do so can result in an unlimited fine or up to three months in prison.

Mr Richardson urged people to continue to follow the Code of Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting and report their discoveries, including Treasure.