The days of hiking through rough terrain to chart the world around us is a thing of the past. Today’s map making is a much different process...

By Mark Simpson ǀ Forest Creation Officer

Cartography is a word not used by many. It is mainly associated with old hand drawn maps with drawings of sea monsters and text reading “here be dragons”. It conjures images of adventurers braving all weathers, venturing into the unknown to chart the ever-expanding edges of ancient empires.

We’ve traded our ships for computer processors, relying on satellite data to capture the look and shape of the landscapes we traverse. There are no places to hide under the eyes of satellites - we can go to Google Maps and zoom in and out with astonishing resolution from our desktop computers and even our mobile phones. We can navigate at the tap of a screen and receive live updates of traffic information from anywhere in the world. We’ve traded our map and compasses in favour of our devices.

It’s only relatively recently that the forestry industry made the switch to digital cartography. Many traditional foresters still rely on paper and orientation skills to plan, design and navigate forests. New recruits to the industry - and those open to accepting the change - are much more tech savvy. We’re learning to master Digital Cartography software platforms such as QGIS or ArcMap to design our sites and look after our forests.

Digital Cartography is much more than drawing boundary lines on a computer to demarcate a site...

We use special tools to work out areas for planting or perimeter lengths for fencing. The accuracy available is astounding, with precision down to the millimetre. This data can then be uploaded to Google Maps to assist contractors with planting operations. It takes seconds to figure out the number of trees that can be planted within an area, and even use advanced tools to pre-determine individual tree locations.

Other tools can create future projections of forests by overlaying realistic tree images on areas we designate for planting. This tool lets landowners be as hands-on with design decisions as they please, allowing a much more rounded idea of how it will look in the future.

Digital Cartography even goes as far as integrating LiDAR and drone technologies. LiDAR is short for Light Detection and Ranging and utilises a spinning camera that fires a laser and records the time taken for the light to travel to its destination and back. It does this millions of times per second, creating a high resolution, highly accurate 3D model of the area it was operating in.

Despite the staggering mapping capability afforded to us by the digital age, this technology is still in its’ infancy. It will be interesting to watch how it evolves over the coming years, and even more exciting to see the way we can integrate it here at the Forest of Marston Vale.

Interested in using this technology to plant your own woodland?

Mark is part of our Forest Creation team delivering Trees for Climate, a multi-million pound woodland creation programme that offers packages of bespoke advice and financial support to landowners and community groups thinking about tree planting projects. If you're interesting in finding out about how you get get funding and support  - like mapping your potential site with the technology Mark has mentioned - visit our TfC site:

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