Mapping the Landscape

12 Aug 2009

It is the sixtieth anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, and Britain’s fifteen National Parks are celebrating with National Parks week ending on 2 August.  Such celebrations are not only a crucial reminder of the magnificence of the countryside, but also a guiding inspiration for more people to become concerned with the necessary preservation of the British landscape.

This year, the Woodland Trust, with the Tree Council and the Forestry Commission launched its campaign to identify over 100,000 ancient British trees, in an effort to preserve precious natural heritage1. So far, more than 50,000 have already been logged on the Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt website, which notes trees that are protected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs), and is intended to identify and include ancient trees that are not currently protected – helping to ensure that such historic survivors can be preserved for future generations2.

South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) has many historic and ancient trees within the district. The Council had identified 180 old Area Tree Preservation Orders that required reviewing to enable continued protection and stop the loss of important individual trees that provide high amenity to the public.

RPS was appointed to conduct the TPO Review for SODC in August 2008, and has now completed the project.  Using high accuracy GPS receivers and GIS mapping tools, RPS experts were able to conduct a systematic and thorough review of all trees and woodland covered by the Orders. Detailed condition and amenity assessments were carried out for all trees and groups of trees, and presented as a comprehensive database that is fully compatible with SODC’s in-house GIS system.

It is not just about saving veteran trees and ancient landscapes: there are 27 species of endangered beetles alone, who owe their continued existence to the preservation of specific ancient trees in Britain, and the extremely rare Bryoria smithii lichen survives on a handful of trees at just two sites in Dartmoor. Where reasonably possible, the preservation of the natural landscape is an important concern -the trees are a composite part of a complex network of long-established and intricate eco-systems of plant and animal life.

RPS has successfully completed a project ahead of schedule to digitise field survey data for nearly 48,000ha of moorland within the North York Moors National Park3. The exercise is intended to help inform and guide the continuing conservation of the Park, which has a variety of stunning natural landscape types including woodland, rivers, coastland, and moorland.

Moorland accounts for a third of the entire Park’s area and is the largest continuous heather moorland in England and Wales. Using ArcGIS and MapInfo tools, RPS digitised over fifty 1:10,000 scale field survey maps. Natural habitats were clearly defined in a system of vegetation polygons and boundary polylines featuring all associated attribute and habitat codes information, based on Phase 1 habitat colour codes defined by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

RPS provides a multi-disciplinary comprehensive landscape assessment and design service including architecture, planning, and environmental statements.



1 In response to the movement, the National Trust has now also launched a survey of its own 40,000 trees, in a three-year exercise with funding from Cadbury.

2 These not only include trees that have stood for thousands of years, including Scotland’s Fortingall Yew which is estimated to be around 5,000 years old and Europe’s oldest living thing, but comparatively younger trees such as the sycamore tree at Tolpuddle where the Tolpuddle Martyrs met in 1834.

3 The National Park Authority conducted a Phase 1 Habitat Survey from 1985-90 which informed the mapping of the Park’s non-moorland habitats in 2005-6.

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