Is Shetland a cartographic compromise too far?

MSP Tavish Scott intends to introduce an amendment to the Islands Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament, which would compel public bodies to “accurately and proportionately” depict Shetland in relation to the rest of the country.  He point out the the cartographic tendency to place the archipelago in a box somewhere off Scotland’s east coast is annoys island residents, as they feel like their home is an afterthought on maps. Great for inclusion, exactly what the Islands Bill intends to do one would think.

But what are the implications?  The Shetlands Times describes the placing of Shetland-in-a-box as a geographical error.  It is plainly not, it is a cartographic compromise. And there are always implications to a compromise.  To include the Northern Isles in their actual geographical location, separated from the mainland by almost 100 miles of water, would reduce the scale at which the country can be displayed by around 40%.

 

 


Paradoxically, not only does this mean that Shetland is displayed in much less detail, but also Scotland’s smaller Council Areas (eg Dundee) effectively disappear, reduced from any kind of area to an insignificant point, or major features such as the Firths of Tay and Forth lost under text-labels for Dundee and Edinburgh. We are left having to put the Central Belt in a zoom-box because of the loss of detail in areas where most people live, or having to use two sheets of paper rather than one for maps of Scotland.  Just as well we don’t live in Chile, that narrow but 2653-mile / 4270-km long country is almost impossible to viably display on a single sheet of paper.

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The circumstance of Shetland-in-a-box (and indeed Orkney-in-a-box-too) is a feature of maps intended to display our entire country with a reasonable level of detail.  It is neither a feature of Ordnance Survey mapping, which divides Scotland into numerous sheets, nor of modern online maps such as produced by Google or Bing, where detail can be displayed dynamically depending on levels of zoom. Even the BBC weather map is zoomed and panned to display details, so can include all parts of the country.  But traditional maps are, and have always been, replete with cartographic compromises, whether it be omitting details unneccessary to what the map is trying to portray; projections which show Greenland as twice the size of Australia or diminish the importance of equatorial regions; or scale which displays the world’s mega-cities as insignificant dots rather than immense polygons or displaying streets as two or three times their actual width so they can be seen at all.  We may be uncomfortable with some of these choices, but the professionalism of the cartographer should ensure appropriate use.  Maps are by their nature gross simplifications of the real world.  Each individual map has a purpose and it is crucial that cartographers are not hampered by political correctness.  It is important that Tavish Scott raises this issue, and reminds us of the value of inclusivity in terms of some of our most topographically-stunning and economically important islands, but it is equally important that cartographers are not muzzled in the maps they produce.

(Map images from Google)

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EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review : Julie Procter, Greenspace Scotland : 16th Feb

[NB March seminar rescheduled for May (25th); *Next talk*: Fri 27th Apr]

EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar Review: Julie Procter, Greenspace Scotland: 16 February

Friday 16 Feb 2018

For the February edition of the EEO-AGI Scotland Seminar in Edinburgh, we welcomed Julie Procter to the Geography building and were rewarded with an engaging foray into the new OS Greenspace map products and their many applications. Julie is the Chief Executive of Greenspace Scotland, which she has led since it was established in 2002. Though she was hasty to mention to the assembled crowd of geospatial scientists that she was personally no tech expert, her talk provided a refreshing change of perspective as an exploration of the history of the Greenspace Map’s development and the new possibilities afforded by its newest iteration. The title: “Using OS greenspace to transform urban places into people places.”

Julie began by describing the challenges and successes of the original Greenspace map of Scotland, released in 2011. The public benefits of accessible greenspace are directly related to many objectives of the Scottish Government, so there was great interest in developing a resource to manage and display this data, but at the time there was no unified repository for greenspace data. The first release of the Greenspace map solved this issue, but the team quickly realized that keeping it up to date was going to be a monstrous task; this realization led to their partnership with the Ordnance Survey. The OS Open Greenspace map now updates every 6 months, and the OS MasterMap Greenspace Layer for public sector and academic use also includes more categories such as woodlands and private gardens.

After this tour of the history of the greenspace products, Julie decided to give the audience a bit of homework. Distributing post-it notes, she asked us to write down some of our ideas about how we might use the greenspace data while she went on to describe how it’s been used recently by a number of organisations. From local council land use strategies to greenspace network development on regional scales, the public sector has been an important and innovative user thus far of the greenspace data.

As a final theme, Julie covered some big news from the very recently published Third State of Scotland’s Greenspace Report. The new MasterMap Greenspace Layer enabled the production of some eye-opening statistics and figures about the urban greenspace in Scotland. For example, the area of urban greenspace in Scotland is equal to 22 Loch Lomonds, or 1593 square kilometres – enough for one green tennis court per person (of course, it is not currently the plan to convert all of Scotland’s greenspace into tennis courts). These figures are exciting, but Julie reminded us that many of the public benefits of greenspace depend on the quality of that space and whether it is used, and assessing that quality is the next big step for the Ordnance Survey, Scottish Greenspace, and the Scottish Government.

We diligent members of the audience did not forget that we had homework, and nor did Julie. She opened a discussion to follow up on the group’s ideas on potential uses for the greenspace data, which had the excellent benefit of seamlessly transitioning to a question and answer session. Audience engagement was high, particularly as the MSc students had previously used the OS Open Greenspace data for a project and were keen to ask clarifying questions and to share their experiences with the dataset.

Luckily for members of AGI Scotland who did not attend the Edinburgh seminar, Julie also spoke at the organisation’s annual meeting on 27 February, contributing to the theme of GI Applications. It will be exciting to watch for new research and, hopefully, new strides ahead for Scotland’s greenspace that will be enabled by this important resource.

Taylor Willow

(MSc Geographical Information Science at University of Edinburgh)