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Environment Agency to extend LiDAR data to all of England



Agency to produce open data laser maps on entire landscape by 2020

The Environment Agency is planning to produce a laser map of England’s entire landscape by 2020, using the data to assess flood risk and inform conservation work.

It said it will use aircraft equipped with laser scanners to produce a detailed LiDAR (light detection and ranging) layout of all 130,000 sq km of the country, including rivers, fields and national parks, at a resolution of 1metre.

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% of the country is mapped but with only sporadic coverage of upland areas. The new project, beginning over the 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.

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

“I’m pleased 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.”

Understanding risk

The Environment Agency has been using LiDAR technology for 20 years. Maps are created by aircraft equipped with laser scanners, which measure the distance between the aeroplane and the ground. The data is currently used largely to understand flood risk and plan defences across river catchments, and to help environment officers spot sudden changes in the landscape that could indicate illegal waste dumping.

Other organisations under the agency’s parent Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also use the data. They include Natural England in assessing wildlife habitat and the Forestry Commission in improving its understanding of the country’s tree cover.

The new initiative should extend the potential for these and other bodies, including many not in the public sector, in using the data.

In 2015, the Environment Agency made 11 terabytes of LiDAR data, which it had been gathering since 1998, available as open data under the Open Government Licence through its Datashare portal. It said that since then, the data has been downloaded more than 500,000 times.

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

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