Over the years we have dug sites,
or searched for digging sites, on farmland, in woods, on fallow or 'wasteland',
in urban areas and in rural areas, in remote areas and even in peoples back
gardens. Wherever we are digging or searching the one basic underlying rule
we follow is: as far as physically possible leave a site as good as, or better
than, we found it.
We always seek permission for our
digs and have a good track record, backed up by references from major landowners,
for digging responsibly, keeping landowners fully informed, always sticking
to any conditions attached to permissions, and leaving sites in good condition.
Below are some photographs of two sites we have dug recently.
Also on this page is our 'Digging
Code of Conduct', and a brief mention of our search for Permissions.
Although the examples below are all larger rubbish dumps at least a few tens
of metres in extent, all of the points we make are equally relevant whether
we are digging a large dumping site or a small Victorian rubbish pit (as small
as 3 feet square!) of the type often found behind old pubs, taverns or shops.
DIGGING AND TIDYING
We start off by removing the turf,
or the topsoil if there is no turf, and placing it to one side. Then, a hole
is dug straight down to the bottom of the tip (usually between 2 and 5 feet
down, but sometimes deeper), and the tip contents put on a tarpaulin or groundsheet.
Whenever possible (usually on shallower sites) we backfill as we dig. This
keeps a site tidier as we dig, but also makes filling in at the end of the
day much easier.
Even when we know we will be returning
to a site two or more days in a row we will fill in and and fully tidy up
on a daily basis rather than leaving holes unfilled and then tidying up at
the end of the two, three or four day period. The only times we don't
do this are when we are specifically told it will be unnecessary (which
does sometimes happen). Either way, we always tidy up at the end of every
Below are some before, during, and
after photographs of digs we have done in the past two or three years:
A grassed site. This was in a field where animals were kept
for part of the year. We were allowed to dig here during the season the animals
Above: a trench started
in the shallow tip (maximum of 3 feet deep). At this point the trench is almost
long enough to begin backfilling. The tip contents are almost entirely soil,
clinker, and coal ash (from the days before central heating and gas or electric
cookers). Various fragments of broken glass and pottery can be seen stikcing
out of the ash in the side of the hole, and on the spoil heap.
Above: Putting turf
back on top of the backfill as we go along. Getting a large part of the filling-in
done in this way as we go along makes tidying up at the end of the day a lot
Above: The tip contents
back in the hole, compacted down, and levelled off. All larger pieces of pottery,
glass, rubble, etc, are put into the bottom of the hole, before the hole is
Above: Done for the
day. This dig was in the summer, and the turf put back on top of the previous
weekends digging is already going slightly brown, on the right. This days
digging is still green next to it. The brown areas greened up and fully recovered
within a few weeks.
A woodland site. Two
sets of photographs from different parts of the same site. The first set are
from a flat area at the top of a slope. The second set is at the bottom of
the same slope, at a different time of year.
getting started. Nettles cleared,
groundsheets laid, in a spot that is not too close to any trees.
Above: Down in the dump.
Topsoil (complete, in this case, with wild flower bulbs), is heaped on the
far side of the hole. Tip contents are piled on a groundsheet closer to the
camera. The piles of 'junk' at either end of the hole are bricks, lumps of
metal, and large broken or otherwise unwanted glass and stoneware pieces that
will go back into the bottom of the hole before we start filling in.
We have found that wild flower bulbs
do not suffer significantly from being moved around in this way, so long as
the digging is done well after the flowering season is over, and so long as
the bulbs are covered with a layer of topsoil at the end of the day. If they
are left lying exposed at the surface they tend to get eaten by wildlife.
This site is slightly deeper than
the previous one and so trenching forward and backfilling' as we did with
the previous site, is minimal in the course of one day of digging.
Above: Filled in, tamped down
and covered with topsoil. Scattering the foliage removed at the beginning
of the day back on top helps make the dug area blend in with the surroundings
a bit more. This time next year even we will have difficulty locating this
Digging at the bottom of the slope,
Above: Finished at the end
of the day. Once the hole was filled in and levelled off scattered
dead leaves made it easy to leave it looking as though we hadn't even been
there. The only sign that we have been is the area where the dead weeds have
Digging Code of Conduct.
There are several very simple measures
that we have found through experience are an enormous help when asking for
permission and subsequently digging. Sticking to these avoids pretty much
every problem that might crop up:
1. We always leave a site as tidy as we found it, or if possible
tidier. We do this on a daily basis unless specifically told otherwise, and
will also usually carry out a final tidy up once a site is completely finished.
2. We always offer to make
any final improvements to a site that are requested (within reason!),
such as reseeding or planting once digging is finished, burying or otherwise
removing rubbish that may be lying around on top before we start, etc. We
have even on occasion recontoured a site, within the limits of what can be
done in a day or two, by two people.
3. We always keep the fact
that we are digging a site confidential between us and the landowner,
unless the landowner specifically suggests otherwise.
4. We never wander elsewhere
on the owners land without their knowledge or permission. We stick
to the area we have permission for.
5. We always comply with other
conditions a landowner may want to make. These may include anything
reasonable, but one of the most common is a requirement to restrict digging
to certain times of the day, or of the year, or to avoid certain times when
the land is being used for shooting or other activities. Another is that we
keep the landowner fully informed of progress and finds, either verballyor
6. Phased permissions:
When we are not sure about the location of a site and are asking for permission
to search for it, we commonly get two stages of permission. Stage 1 is permission
to search. Stage 2 is permission to dig, if we find a possible site, and if
it is in a location where digging will not cause obvious problems.
The digging Code of Conduct above
has worked very well for us in the past, as well as for the owners of land
we have had permission to dig on.
For anyone contemplating digging
for the first time, the other aspect that must always be borne in
mind is safety, both yours and other peoples. This website does not
provide any detailed guidelines on this issue, and obviously all diggers must
always take their own responsibility for safe digging, but some basic safety
NEVER dig alone; ALWAYS wear strong
gloves and boots, ALWAYS have a mobile phone with you (and keep it within
reach); NEVER dig deeper than is safe; ALWAYS fill in all holes (whether you
personally think they are dangerous or not!), ALWAYS rebury all glass, pottery
and other sharp items when you have finished.
A crucial part of our hobby is the
quest for permissions.
While the search for worth-while sites can be both frustrating and time consuming,
all the effort of the search counts for nothing if permission to dig a site
is not forthcoming. We have been lucky on this score so far because we have
managed to get permission for almost 100% of the sites we have found since
we started searching and digging together a few years ago. We like to think
that this high success rate is because we have, from day one, adopted an open
and forthright approach, and have always stuck to the digging code of conduct
We would (obviously)
be very interested* to
hear from any owners of land in the UK where Victorian dumps, or smaller rubbish
pits, are located, who would be prepared to give us permission to dig on those
sites. If you are such a landowner but are unsure about the practicalities,
or would like additional information of any kind, or just a bit of a chat
about the whole thing, please contact
us to find out more.
Who are we kidding? We'd be chuffed to bits.
We have written references from owners
of sites we have dug in the past three years. These can be provided to owners
of any land we seek permission to search for sites on, or to dig on, in the
to Digging main page
© J. M. Kemp & D.