Illegal metal detecting is on the rise around Marlow according to an archaeology group, with fears the practice could lead to the loss of vital information needed to piece together the town’s history.

The historical town is a popular hot spot for archaeologists hunting for treasure which has led to the discovery of numerous ancient artefacts in popular spaces such as Rookery Gardens.

However Marlow’s rich ancient history has also attracted ‘nighthawks’ – illegal metal detecting operators who trespass on to land often selling finds to exploitative dealers.

Following public complaints to Wycombe District Council, Marlow Archaeology has condemned the “selfish and antisocial thieves” who create permanent gaps in the town’s history - urging residents to be on their guard.

Anne Spencer, on behalf of Marlow Archaeological Society, said: “They are frankly selfish, antisocial thieves – possibly motivated by money and have no interest in history. These unrecorded or un-provenanced finds mean a loss to knowledge of the archaeology and history of England and Wales.

“Nighthawking is often performed on private land where permission to survey and dig has been refused or as in our own experience on archaeological excavations. “

Wycombe District Council has confirmed it has given no permission for metal detecting to take place in its green spaces, with incidences also being reported in the High Wycombe area.

Bucks is no stranger to this kind of activity after bronze-age axes discovered in the area by nighthawks were sold on Ebay back in 2009.

Mrs Spencer continued: “Nighthawkers rarely declare their finds due to the method of acquisition.

“Breach of this law can result in a £5,000 fine, a term of imprisonment up to three months or both”

Legally, treasure finds are meant to be reported to a coroner within 14 days, which if ignored can lead to a fine of up to £5,000 and a three months in prison.

The Weekend Wanderers Metal Detecting Club work around Bucks, and stressed the importance of adhering to the law when it comes to metal detecting.

Founder of the club, Peter Welch said: “We do not encourage that sort of thing because of course it is illegal. The main thing about our club is we get people implemented on sites with permission from the owner and make sure they know which days we will be there otherwise it would be inexcusable.”

Historic England has said it takes the issue of nighthawking very seriously, and has urged anyone who notices any unusual metal detecting activity in the area to report it to police.

National policing and crime advisor for Historic England said: “"We recognise that the majority of the metal detecting community comply with the laws and regulations relating to the discovery and recovery of objects from the land but arrests send out a clear message to the small criminal minority that you will be identified and action will be taken to ensure you are brought to justice."