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Lidar scanning to map entire English landscape

02 Jan 2018

UK's Environment Agency to map country by 2020 – to assess flood risk and for conservation.

The UK’s Environment Agency has announced plans to use lidar to map England’s entire landscape by 2020, using the collected data to assess flood risk and inform conservation work.

Using aircraft equipped with laser scanners, the EA will map all 130,000km2 of the country, including rivers, fields and national parks – a total area equivalent to 32 million football pitches.

As well as being used to understand flood risk, the data is also expected to be made available for free to the public and industry to be used by archaeologists, environmental and urban planners, and even gamers to make accurate 3D models of the landscape.

The EA stated that currently about 75 per cent of England is already mapped but with only sporadic coverage of upland areas. The new project, starting immediately and running through winter 2018, will cover all of England’s national parks, areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONBs) and sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) such as the Peak District and the Yorkshire Dales.

Sir James Bevan, Chief Executive of the Environment Agency, commented, “This ambitious project will enhance our understanding of England’s natural features and landscape, helping us to better understand flood risk, plan effective defences and fight waste crime.

“I’m pleased that we are able to gather, use and share such valuable data to contribute to environmental improvements and conservation. It’s just one of the many ways the Environment Agency is using technology to help people and wildlife.”

20-year record

The Environment Agency has been using lidar – light detection and ranging – technology for 20 years to better understand flood risk. Maps are created by aircraft equipped with laser scanners, which measure the distance between the aeroplane and the ground. The data collected can then be used to plan flood defences across whole river catchments.

The procedure also helps environment officers spot sudden changes in the landscape that could indicate illegal waste dumping – in 2014 eight people in Cornwall were fined for dumping 4,500m3 of waste, which was discovered using lidar data.

Other organisations across the DEFRA group (Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs) also use the lidar-generated data to help improve the environment. For example, Natural England uses it to assess wildlife habitat and Forestry Commission use it to understand more about the country’s tree cover.

In 2015, the Environment Agency made 11 terabytes of lidar data available for free to the public as open data. Since then, the data has been downloaded more than 500,000 times. The data has even helped archaeologists uncover lost Roman roads in the north of the country.

The new data will also be better quality than ever before, as the Environment Agency will map the whole country at 1meter-resolution by 2020. This means using the most up-to-date laser technology to reveal the features and details of the terrain more clearly.

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