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A person caught fossicking for relics on Department of Conservation (Doc) scientific reserve land using a metal-detector has been warned but will not be prosecuted.
Doc community relations ranger Jacob Dexter said though the person had been caught red handed and admitted previously taking objects from the reserve, the scale of the offending was only minor.
However, it did serve as a good warning that taking items from areas protected under the Conservation Act or the Reserves Act was illegal, Mr Dexter said.
In May the person was witnessed by Doc staff using a metal detector in the Chapman Rd scientific reserve, Earnscleugh, an area which houses various threatened salt-tolerant plants.
When questioned, the person admitted previously finding and excavating buried metal objects such as lead, bullets and iron from the reserve.
"We think it was more a case that they didn't know what they were doing was wrong.
"Hunting of relics is considered by many as a legitimate recreational activity. However, in many cases this activity can actually be an offence and illegal under legislation," he said.
People taking relics was an issue in Central Otago "because there's so much interesting stuff around".
"It's not something that we look on favourably because eventually we could end up with no relics in our reserves, because they are all on people's doorsteps.
Wilfully excavating within a reserve or removing or damaging relics or flora of any kind without authority is an offence under the Reserves Act 1977, and punishable by imprisonment or a fine of up to $500.
If these activities occur on a pre-1900 archaeological site, they may also constitute an offence under the Historic Places Act 1993.
While there were cases in which people had been prosecuted under the Historic Places Act for offences in Central Otago, he was not aware of Doc's Central Otago office having dealt with anything like this before, Mr Dexter said.
Anyone who sees someone damaging historic features or removing artefacts from public land is encouraged to report it to their nearest Doc office or by calling the Doc emergency phone number, 0800-362-468.