Planes put heritage on the map

November 2, 2001

An aerial survey of England will reveal the nation's archaeological heritage in unprecedented detail, writes Steve Farrar.

English Heritage is accelerating its national mapping programme, while the United Kingdom's only university-based aerial photography unit at Cambridge University has announced a major expansion after a £2.7 million cash injection.

Robert Bewley, head of aerial survey at English Heritage, said: "We are hoping to complete the map in five to ten years."

The map will allow archaeologists to see how the mark of civilisation left on the landscape varies across the country.

Two aircraft have covered 30 per cent of England at a scale of 1:10,000, revealing hidden monuments such as a host of Iron Age settlements found around former US airbases.

Cambridge's aerial photography unit recently faced closure, but after stern criticism from the British Academy in May and amid pressure from academics, a general board review decided on a reprieve. The Unit for Landscape Modelling has since attracted a £325,000 grant to put its archive of photographs on the internet and a £2.4 million Science Research Investment Fund award to modernise its premises and expand its remit.

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