METAL detectorists have been slammed for damaging the grounds and potentially stealing artefacts from a historic 12th century Dorset church.

Historic England says it will work closely with Dorset Police to identify those who damaged the grounds at Knowlton Church in Cranborne last week and “bring them to justice”.

It is believed protected objects were taken from the grounds in which damage was sustained.

East Dorset Police says it received a report of damage to the ancient monument site by metal detectorists and urged members of the public to report such activity in the area.

Bournemouth Echo: Knowlton Church. Picture: Michael CoxKnowlton Church. Picture: Michael Cox

The Knowlton site is best known for its ruined Norman church which was built within a neolithic henge monument, known locally as the Knowlton Rings.

There is no admission fee to members of the public and is open to visitors at any reasonable time of year in daylight hours. The church is a Grade II listed building and its maintenance is taken care of by English Heritage.

Mark Harrison, head of heritage crime strategy at Historic England said: “We have been notified of the damage to the prehistoric site situated at Knowlton Church, Cranborne. It is believed that the damage is a result of unlawful metal detecting.

“Historic England will be working closely with Dorset Police and English Heritage to identify the offenders and to bring them to justice.

Bournemouth Echo: Notice outside Knowlton Church and Earthworks site. Picture: East Dorset PoliceNotice outside Knowlton Church and Earthworks site. Picture: East Dorset Police

“Unlawful metal detecting, sometimes known as ‘nighthawking’, is not a victimless crime. We may never see or fully understand the objects taken or damaged because they have been removed from their original sites with no care or record as to their history or context.”

As outlined on signage outside the site, metal detecting is prohibited and “intentionally disturbing the ground anywhere on the site is an offence”.

A police spokesperson said: “Please ring 999 if you see anyone damaging this or any other heritage site, and if you can take a note of their number plate, that would be helpful.

“What they are stealing belongs to the nation, so we are all victims of this crime.”