Home News OS embarks on a vernacular geography project

OS embarks on a vernacular geography project

UK: Ordnance Survey’s (OS) Research department created a new system, FINTAN, which is being trialled in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres (MRCCs) at Clyde, Solent, Holyhead and Stornoway. The system allows staff to add local names for beaches, rocks, waterways and other features with local names onto the existing mapping data, something which is of interest and benefit to both organisations and the public. FINTAN includes 1:50 000 Scale Gazetteer, 1:25 000 Scale Colour Raster and OS MasterMap Address Layer 2 to form a search facility for the Agency to use. It also permits the use of grid references alongside latitude and longitude – as used by Her Majesty’s Coastguard allowing the other emergency services to use different reference systems for the same location.

The system could provide the answer to a common challenge for Ordnance Survey and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in collecting information on the names people use to describe places that aren’t commonly shown on mapping data or exist within gazetteers. For the Coastguard, a large number of emergency calls are received for incidents located on, or just off the coast of Great Britain and postcodes are not of great use, making locating people a challenge. People will often use nicknames for beaches, rocks and areas that are not captured as official place names on a map, but may be well-known to the locality. So far, the MRCCs have been adding names for off-shore rocks and nicknames for islands – such as Sausage Island (Ynys-las, Gwynedd) and Dell Rock, off Stornoway. As the Coastguard moves towards a national maritime operations centre, a greater emphasis will need to be placed on capturing local knowledge to support emergency response and coordination functions.

Steve Brown, Head of Technical Development at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said, “As one of the emergency services, we currently operate 18 Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres around the United Kingdom and our Coastguard staff hold an enormous amount of local knowledge, which is often key to emergency response and coordination. As we move towards a national maritime operations centre, we will have a heavier reliance on geographic information and we will need to ensure that we robustly incorporate our local knowledge within the modernised Coastguard organisation.”

“Through FINTAN, Ordnance Survey is enabling Her Majesty’s Coastguard to consistently capture this valuable information and make it available across the whole country, something we’ve not been able to manage previously.”

For Ordnance Survey, the Research department have long recognised the strength of local knowledge and have been investigating the building of an “alternative gazetteer” through crowd-sourcing that references local nicknames and could include, for example, a popular name for a road junction or bridge.   

“With the huge variety of place nicknames that exist, we could never hope to capture them all ourselves,” said Glen Hart, Ordnance Survey’s Head of Research. “Technically, this research goes by the name of vernacular geography, which is looking into which names should be recorded and how best to discover them.

“Projects like this can provide us with useful research data and help organisations like the Maritime and Coastguard Agency when responding to emergency calls. By having a set of ‘unofficial’ names we could help the emergency services quickly locate the right place, and maybe even save lives.”  

The next phase for both organisations is to test and check the added names and to work with local organisations, such as sailing clubs, to see if more coastal knowledge can be gleaned. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency are already pleased with their trial of Ordnance Survey’s FINTAN system and plan to roll it out across all of its Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres over the coming months.

Source: Ordnance Survey