Environment Agency Release New Aquifer Classification

A long-awaited new classification of aquifer vulnerability for England and Wales has finally been launched this week, which directly affects the work undertaken in the field of land contamination assessment. This new classification system supersedes the aquifer class in the EA’s older Groundwater Vulnerability, effective from the 1st April 2010. Currently, the new maps are only available on-line (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/37833.aspx) through the EA’s ‘What’s in your Backyard’ feature, however, the EA have also released an Advisory Note (click here).

Critically, it appears the EA are not going to be making this dataset commercially available as a standalone dataset, because it is based on the BGS 1:50k DiGMapGB-50 data, and as a result there are issues between the EA and BGS relating to intellectual property rights when it comes to commercially licencing this data. Although not confirmed, my assumptions are that the new aquifer classification data will eventually become additional attribute fields within the BGS 1:50k dataset. If this is the case, in my opinion this raises several points:

  1. The new cost implications for an environmental consultancy wishing to hold this dataset at a national level are unfeasible. Previously, an annual data licence for UK coverage of the EA’s GWV dataset in a GIS format was in the order of £2.5k per annum. A recent enquiry following the release of the BGS’s OpenGeoScience portal with ‘free’(!) access to the BGS 1:50k maps, suggested a licence for a WMS for delivering the 1:50k digital maps for internal business use into a commercial company for UK coverage would be well over £100k per annum.
  2. It’s great that data producers and suppliers in the public sector are working together to produce up to date datasets, but if the resulting issues relating to intellectual property rights, data licencing and copyright put too many restrictive barriers in the way of being able to share and make these datasets available, what is the point of producing them? I’m reminded of a similar scenario with the release of Radon data due to similar issues between the HPA and BGS. Also does this not go against everything the INSPIRE directive is trying to implement?

Just this week, one of the key discussions at the AGI Environmental SIG Conference (held at the BGS HQ!) focussed on ‘What barriers are there to using environmental data from other organisations and how can these be overcome?’. If only that conference were a week later, what a great case study this could have been!

So to conclude, what stance should the Environmental Consultancy industry take? Will the cost to licence the BGS 1:50k data mean that consultancies will give up on holding digital data for a national aquifer dataset, or is there an avenue (maybe through INSPIRE or even Gordon Brown’s speech on ‘Building Britain’s Digital Future’ last Monday? – http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page22897) to start putting pressure on the relevant agencies to make the new aquifer data more accessible (at least on a par with the previous GWV dataset!) to the masses?

Karl Danes
Principal Consultant & GIS Specialist
Arcadis UK

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