Ordnance Survey to chart Scotland changes from sky

Looking down on Glasgow's SECC. Picture: Contributed
Looking down on Glasgow's SECC. Picture: Contributed
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A surveying project to create the most detailed maps ever of Scotland’s urban landscape has begun.

Nearly 30 surveyors are being deployed on foot and in the air to capture minute changes in towns and cities across the central belt as part of a wider scheme to chart the entire country’s man-made and natural geography.

The team from the 250-year-old map-making agency Ordnance Survey (OS) has already covered St Andrews and Dundee, and work has now begun in Glasgow and Aberdeen.

More than 200,000 adjustments have been recorded across the nation in just 12 months, with surveyors visiting more than 30,000 locations and making more than 2.5 million modifications since the initiative began.

Everything from the installation of new roundabouts and green spaces to recently constructed housing developments and landmark transport schemes is being noted in towns and cities, as well as rural changes resulting from coastal erosion, diverted watercourses, construction of wind farms and felling of forests.

“We capture major updates like the new Forth bridge, as well as the day-to-day changes like when a new supermarket gets built,” said Andy Clark, product manager for OS.

“Now, for the first time, we will be flying the central belt of Scotland using high-resolution aerial photography. In a similar way as we do in the rural environment, we will sweep for changes in urban areas.

“That means capturing everything from any building that is over eight metres squared in size – so if you’ve got a shed in your back garden, that will appear on the map – and it will update the vegetation coverage in parks and alongside rivers.

“It will update traffic-calming measures, where speed humps or pavement changes have been put in.”

The Ordnance Survey name harks back to the agency’s original military purpose: mapping Scotland in the wake of the 1745 Jacobite uprising to help government troops track down rebels hiding in the Highlands. Today it is the go-to agency for details on anything from school catchment areas, forestry plantations and coastal erosion patterns to land ownership, property sales and transport links.

Though it is still probably best known for its paper Landranger and Explorer maps, OS’s mass of land data has more uses than helping Munro baggers notch up peaks.

It even has an emergency section, whose experts have been called in to provide crucial geographical intelligence during crises such as the Lockerbie bombing and Dunblane massacre, as well as for natural disasters such as flooding.

Glasgow-based field production manager Howard Henderson has been an OS surveyor for 40 years.

His 27-strong Scottish team has recently been involved in charting a number of major developments, including the new Forth crossing, the final stage of the Beauly to Denny electricity transmission line and Glasgow’s recently opened Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

They aim to capture and record big changes to the country’s geography within six months.

“Though the new Forth bridge is not finished, we have been keeping pace with all the works, the roads network that leads into it,” he said.

“We get them on the map as they happen. We don’t wait for a project to be completed.

“The Borders Railway as well. Our surveyors on the ground did the actual track and the railway stations. Now the aerial team have flown the full length of it.”