Assessing the use of GIS to understand zones of woodland creation sensitivity around designated heritage assets

    • Client: Forestry Commission
    • Location: National
    • Date: 31 March 2022

Our team have recently undertaken two projects with the Forestry Commission. These explored the use of GIS in understanding, assessing and mapping the historic environment with regard to future planting strategies. 

The first project explored how GIS datasets may be used to understand zones of influence/sensitivity around designated heritage assets, with a view to developing approaches that could be applied relatively quickly and cost-effectively across England.

Our team undertook a phase of research to see if and how GIS has been used to map zones of setting/sensitivity/influence.

Engagement with stakeholders from across the forestry and historic environment sectors was integral to this work. We spoke with representatives of projects that had been identified as useful to this research, to better understand the methods and approaches that they used in their assessments.

Our team also hosted two online workshops at key milestones within the project. The first presented the research and sought views on GIS approaches that could be used to understand setting/sensitivity/influence. The second discussed the outcomes of the trials. Within each workshop, we presented our findings and facilitated discussion. These workshops were well attended by cross-discipline representatives, including Historic England, Natural England, Environment Agency, Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, Council for British Archaeology and universities working on similar projects.

Datasets utilised included:

  • Existing topographic, settlement and geological mapping
  • Environment Agency lidar data
  • National Forest Inventory
  • Historic Environment Record data
  • National and local Historic Landscape Characterisation, and
  • Designated heritage assets

Our methodology was underpinned by national datasets and the checklist within the Historic England GPA 3 – The Setting of Heritage Assets. Attributes of setting were explored and tested to identify which attributes can viably be understood further using GIS.

Our GIS Specialist tested two study areas across the country, including at least 20 scheduled monuments and 20 grade I and II* listed buildings.

A combination of trials were undertaken including the use of lidar and viewshed analysis to aid understanding of topographic location of heritage assets and the creation of Zones of Theoretical Visibility surrounding Designated Heritage Assets. Many of the queries were run in the GIS using Model Builder to allow fully automated queries to be run on multiple datasets and records.

The GIS methodology and queries/filters were fully documented, to reproduce within the report and allow future approaches to utilise and build on the findings.

Next, selected ground truthing was undertaken to assess how reliable the GIS produced zones were.

Our final report included recommendations of which approach worked most successfully, what could be rolled out nationally and possible costs for national rollout.