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The app appeal: Surveying larger areas within a tight timeframe

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One of the biggest problems our clients encounter when conducting environmental surveys is how to accurately survey large areas in a tight timeframe. Assistant Project Manager, Daneen Cowling tells us more.

The app appeal: Surveying larger areas within a tight timeframe

Working for large rail clients in particular, we recognised that time is a critical factor in meeting the requirements of a rapidly expanding UK rail network. Reacting to our clients’ needs we identified the demand for a bespoke survey tool and have been working hard to perfect our app for the last three years. It is now a finely tuned piece of software that has been used on some of the UK’s largest rail projects and is easily transferrable to other purposes.

The bespoke survey tool uses Esri’s collector app and Survey123 and allows us to create surveys on an interactive map that can be used offline in the field or online on a desktop. To date, this has primarily been used for arboricultural surveys but could be easily transferred for use on other surveys, for example, ecological surveys.

The tool allows point data to be collected, which in the case of arboricultural surveys, is useful in locating single features such as trees. With points, you get an accurate GPS location, as well as an attribute table to associate with the feature. Relative to trees, we have also been able to apply crown spreads by collecting spread data, then using a geoprocessing tool to create the spread polygon around the point.

Point data (single trees)

Point data (single trees)

You can also create polylines, an effective way to identify hedges or boundary features. Polylines are useful features to collect as not only do they record an accurate location, but they can also measure geometries. This means that length can be an automatically calculated field and increase the accuracy of the data. Surveying a linear feature allows you to trace accurately while on the ground, in addition to using the satellite imagery basemap. 

A hedge boundary highlighted via polyline

A hedge boundary highlighted via polyline

Similarly to polylines, polygons allow you to collect accurate geometries which automatically are measured and populated (e.g. area and perimeter length). We have used polygons to collect tree groups and woodlands. The app has been useful in accurately capturing the boundaries of the features. The capture of polygons is very transferable for other survey disciplines, useful to measure site boundaries, habitat types and other features that are measurable by area.

A group of trees identified by a polygon

A group of trees identified by a polygon

We have also used Survey123, to capture more detailed woodland surveys. Using this additional software, we have created a hyperlink within collector app to a more extensive survey form in Survey123. This allows more complex data to be collected with additional features such as skip-logic and on-the-fly calculations. We have used these features to collect information on different woodland stands and plots within the total woodland area.

Using this software has revolutionised the efficiency, accuracy and quality of surveys we can now carry out. Data can be interactively recorded and validated in the field without the need for spreadsheets, paper maps or data connection, then uploaded when back online. The innovation has brought significant benefits to the quality of the outputs, the sustainability of resources required and ultimately the reputation of the company as a leading environmental technological innovator.

We are proud to be an innovative business reacting to our clients’ needs. In the current climate with the additional constraints to working due to the coronavirus pandemic, this is increasingly important. The app, for example, reduces the time and number of people needed at the site to undertake the survey. A minimal number of people are required onsite to plot out the site features (often just one is enough) and once the points have been plotted, the majority of the work can be done back in the safety of the office (or home office, or anywhere with internet access).

Find out more

If you would like to find out more about our bespoke survey tool, related services and innovations, please contact Daneen Cowling or Ben Hockridge.

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