Eighteen months ago I asked the Scottish Government for details of all the spatial datasets it held. From conversations I have had over the past year, it is clear that it would be useful to share this more widely and so here is the information that was released to me. It is correct as of September 2012 and consists of four files – descriptions of which are given below with links to the files themselves. Further information on some of these datasets and links to where you can download some of them are provided on the data.gov.uk website here.

Doc. Name


Brief description



Marine Scotland Metadata is in zipped folders – ID numbers correspond to spreadsheet. Folders will be empty for those records marked NR, NUD or SDME (see key).




Marine Scotland spatial data list is an Excel spreadsheet (with Key).


SG Metadata.zip (6Mb)


Scottish Government XML metadata files.

SG Spatial Data – Current Holding.xls


Scottish Government spatial data holding list



The Queen today visited Northern Ireland. Aside from the politics of the occasion, it is worth noting that Northern Ireland is the one part of the UK where the border is not yet agreed. Lough Foyle (red circle in the map below) remains disputed between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Slugger O’Toole covers the latest twists in the story here. A detailed map can be seen in this post.


Today, an organisation called Greenspace Scotland launched what they claim is a world first in mapping the location, extent and type of greenspace across all of Scotland’s urban settlements. “No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way”. In December 2006, the Scottish Executive provided £298,000 for this project (actually for three projects – it is unclear how much of this was allocated to the mapping). The interactive map is impressive and allows users to look closely at greenspace of all types across Scotland.

However, the real power of such information lies in the ability to interrogate, analyse and combine this data with other data. There are many simple tools available for this and a growing international community of citizens harnessing such data for the public good (the OpenStreeMap and GeoCommons projects are good examples)

Greenspace Scotland tell us that this “world first” map can be made available in GIS (geographic information system) format as raw data so that people can actually use the data rather than simply look at it. The GIS data is useful because, in the words of Greenspace Scotland,

The full GIS data provides an incredible resource for planners, policy makers, researchers and greenspace managers. It can be used to support cross-boundary work on green networks, planning and regeneration; and when combined with other datasets on, for example, health and deprivation, can be used to support decision-making, prioritisation, policy development and research. It can also help target resources and investment to areas with low levels of greenspace

Excellent. I happen to be interested in who owns all this greenspace, how much of it is common good land etc and so I ask for a copy of the data. At this point it becomes clear why Greenspace Scotland claim that “no other country has mapped its greenspace in this way” (my emphasis).

I am refused on the grounds that only those who have an Ordnance Survey MasterMap licence are allowed to get hold of this data. Unfortunately, the OS MasterMap data licence costs many thousands of pounds. The restriction is due to OS licensing conditions on the open distribution of “derived data”. I have been here before with the whoownsscotland project. I have the t-shirt and the scars of this encounter.

“No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way” Lets then take a look at how others have done it.

Take the City of Boulder, Colorado, for example. I can view an online map with information on planning, greenspace, flooding, transportation, landownership and lots more. (Click on eMapLink here). Alternatively, I can download the raw GIS (geographic information systems) data and interrogate it.

Indeed, for any number of cities in across the world, I can download high quality GIS data and undertake research and analysis. If, however, I want to analyse the pattern of greenspace in my own locality in North Edinburgh, I can’t.

“No other country has mapped its greenspace in this way”


For the last few years a growing number of people have been calling for the easing of the complex and restrictive licensing terms imposed by the Ordnance Survey for use of their digital maps. I have had my own horror story with them over the use of maps on the Who Owns Scotland website.

The Government has announced that at long last these restrictions will be lifted for some important datasets. All credit to the Free Our Data campaign and Charles Arthur who have led this fight. Data available at Ordnance Survey OpenData (link to be added as their server is overloaded!)

BUT, it does not include the 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 digital maps needed for the Who Owns Scotland website which will still cost me over £10,000 per year! So, no improvement on the existing 1930s one inch and quarter inch mapping I’m afraid which is a big disappointment. Full details of the proposed changes in the government’s response here.

Interesting news from Downing Street. It has announced that it intends to make most Ordnance Survey maps free for use online from April 2010.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web appears to have convinced Number 10 that this is the best way forward. For anyone who has read of my own problems with the OS, it will be obvious that this is a very welcome development. It remains to be seen, however, if it will actually happen or whether the OS resist the idea.

The scope of the proposal is impressive – in total over 11,000 public datasets are to be made available including, from the OS, electoral and local authority boundaries, postcode areas and mapping.

Official report here and here

Full story at the Guardian

But why no reports of this in the Scotsman or the Herald?

In 2002 I launched a site called whoownsscotland which was designed to document the ownership of land in Scotland. Progress has been slow because it is substantially a voluntary effort though I have had great support form folk in meeting the expenses of running it. The biggest expense has been Ordnance Survey digital mapping. Now, however, my reationship with OS is over due to them terminating my contract unilaterally and trying to bully me into a new, far more expensive contract.

You can read the full story at


Please leave any comments you care to make here at this blog entry.

11 COMMENTS (these have been carried over from my previous blog site – new comments apear in “comment”) link below
2:59 PM
George Clark said…

Andy “I have read the story and it makes grim reading. Hopoefully the OS crew will change their ways.” George

Anonymous said…
I find this incredible! You have taken all steps possible to be correct in your dealings with the OS and then they refute all agreements? Does this mean that a sport such as Orienteering, where you mark out a course on a reproduced OS map is illegal?

7:25 PM
Greg said…
It’s genuinely outrageous that OS charges for this stuff at all; never mind their pricing and licensing policies make no sense. At the end of the day, our government (at all levels) needs OS mapping to do its work; so our taxes pay for this data anyway. Making it free would cost no more, but enables all levels of the economy to generate innovation and wealth. This is the US approach, and part of the reason that their tech industry is able to fluorish so beneficially for their whole economy. A government owned monopoly trying to maximise its income is a dangerous beast.

9:57 AM
Nick said…
Seeing as we paid for this data once (as taxpayers) paying for it again is a bit much. Maybe you could derive your polygons from the recently released KGB maps 😉

5:39 PM
Anonymous said…
This is not a unique story. OS are managed by a bunch of incompetents, with one hand not knowing what the other is doing, and like the blind monkey incapable of even reading and understanding their own drivel. They are responsible to the Deputy Prime Minister, who despite correspondence on a similar but unrelated matter totally ignores everything put to him. Even to the extent of sending a dismissive comment back in a plain unstamped envelope with a Post Office demand to pay £1.23! OS has not the slightest bit of common-sense to enable them to understand how negative and antagonistic they are, without the slightest sign of any real business acumen. Their ivory tower needs to be pulled down.

10:54 PM
Mike said…
Andy, like the others, I agree that this is not an unusual story. We had to go through hoops recently to get a small excerpt into an academic book we were publishing. All very unsatisfactory. I have worked in academic GIS for over 10 years and the recent surge in open source mapping tools is fantastic. Have you thought about putting your whoownsscotland mapping into a GoogleMap hack?

11:49 AM
Jack said…
I’m surprised nobody has suggested the obvious: that wealthy, well-connected landowners don’t like having maps of their estates published online; and perhaps one or two of them have found ways to lobby or put pressure on the OS to have them removed legally and discretely.

12:55 AM
Anonymous said…
Is there somewhere we can lodge our complaints, this is good, but doubt if OS will ever see it…

12:49 PM
Anonymous said…
They did what they did, and that can’t be changed. What I’m more interested in is the WHY. Why after telling you, initially, that all was OK, did they seemingly go out of their way to make things difficult for you?

8:30 PM
Anonymous said…
It is to be hoped that the EU’s INSPIRE Directive (2007/2/EC)which seeks to make “spatial information” gathered by governmental bodies more open will help to stop this sort of nonsense as practiced by the Ordnance Survey.Keith T.

4:18 PM
muymalestado said…
So; OS adds value to the land of Great Britain by mapping and we are charged for it. On the face of it that sounds about right. Now; the Crown also charges for using the sea bed. Did they add value there? Will they soon charge for walking on the surface of Britain? Most of us breathe. Will we be charged?

1.21 AM 21 September 2007
Jackie Quinn said….
Sadly this is so typical of they way life is ..it is always all about money or someone wishing to flex their little power muscles.. It is a pity.

I feel for you going through all that stress for nothing.