The British Environment Agency has announced that it will scan England's entire landscape by 2020, using laser mapping. The data acquired will be used to assess flood risk and inform conservation work.
Using aircraft equipped with laser scanners, the Environment Agency will map all 130,000 km2 of the country, including rivers, fields and national parks – equivalent to 32 million football pitches. The data will also 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.
Currently about 75 per cent of the country is mapped but with only sporadic coverage of upland areas. The new project, beginning over winter, 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.
The Environment Agency has been using lidar–light detection and ranging technology for 20 years to better understand flood risk. An aircraft equipped with laser scanners, measures the distance between the aeroplane and the ground. It also helps environment officers spot sudden changes in the landscape that could indicate illegal waste dumping ,like in 2014, where eight people in Cornwall were fined for dumping 4,500 m3 of waste, which was discovered using lidar data.
Other organisations across the Defra group also use the data to help improve the environment. 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 – equivalent to 3 million MP3 songs – 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. Click here for more information on how the Environment Agency collects and uses Lidar data.