Digging Deeper into Ordnance Survey Data

In 2017, Terrafirma embarked on several projects, in line with our ambition to find innovative ways of gathering and using new sources of information.

These projects varied considerably, from working with universities across the UK to identify and commercialise new ‘ground-breaking’ research projects, working with industry partners to combine intelligence and delve deeper into existing databases, with British Geological Survey, Coal Authority and Ordnance Survey to name but a few. One such project aimed to extract data relevant to historical mining and quarrying activity from several Ordnance Survey (OS) datasets. This project concluded successfully, identifying thousands of mining and quarrying features previously underutilised within risk assessment processes in existing environmental reports. 

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Physically mapped features in the UK, as large as a house or castle, or as small as a capped mine shaft, are given a unique spatial reference and address. Commonly these spatial references have an associated place, road or locality name that refer to historic land use in the local area; for example, roads in the UK are often named Church Road due to the presence of a nearby church. Given this causal relationship, many address names thus contain clues toward identifying past land use. Terrafirma believed that these addresses would therefore be reflective of past mineral extraction activity and features (for example Quarry Lane indicating the presence of a nearby quarry) and perhaps provide insights into areas previously unknown to have experienced mining or quarrying activity, the only record having been preserved within ancient road or area names. 

The data queries from this project were vast, with hundreds of thousands of addresses returned containing specific references to historical mineral extraction. Extensive work was then required by the teams at Terrafirma, removing false positives and interpreting the data, cross-referencing with additional mining, land-use and property records, generating an advanced mining and land-use model. Amongst the data queries returned was the identification and categorisation of an additional 30,000 mining features such as mine shafts and pits that had previously been entirely unrecognised within environmental and ground stability risk assessment. The resulting database, derived from this project, is now embedded in Terrafirma’s risk models which are used in over 500,000 property transactions a year. 

In 2018, Terrafirma will continue working to inform and innovate - digging deeper than ever before into new datasets, and working to better understand and combine existing sources of data. Early this year, our teams will pursue even more exciting research and development ventures and with our academic and commercial partners, the Terrafirma teams will continue identifying trends and patterns, modelling ‘big data’ and more importantly, focus on the translation of results into specific actions and tailored answers for an intended audience. It is shaping up to be an exciting year ahead.

Written by: Tim Longden (Head of Business Partnerships and Geologist)