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Field survey in Jersey

Ex Cockney Etrangeres - Sept 2012

Whilst on annual camp, 135 Geographic Squadron RE was tasked with carrying out a live technical task – to produce orienteering maps of four areas on the island of Jersey in order to practice our core GIS and Data Collection skills. This essentially involved two disciplines in three stages, Data Survey and map production using ARC GIS 10 (Geographic Information Systems).

The first stage involved the GIS team to conduct a desktop study of existing geographic data. The field computer banks were transported from Ewell to Jersey Field Squadron HQ via MAN trucks and set up as a working Geo cell. Using existing aerial imagery of the designated orienteering areas, the GIS team interpreted and plotted overlays on top of the imagery according to the international orienteering map standards. Due to the fact that the imagery was five years old, features, both manmade and natural had to be verified. Interpretation of the imagery could be incorrect and there was a requirement to go into the area to confirm and gather information. For example, what looked like a grassy field on the imagery could now in fact be an impenetrable field classed ‘as wooded area’.

Second stage

The second stage commenced with the data survey team going into each of the four areas to be mapped to collect data, armed with the image maps compiled by the GIS team. Each area was recce’d to choose two suitable base station locations which are fixed in position for the duration of the survey. Their job is to take continual readings from satellites and between each other to make error corrections in position and then transmit these corrections to the roving GPS poles which are used to collect data. This improves the accuracy of the positions being surveyed. We found the perfect location for base station one, on the top of the tallest hill above a second world war bunker. Unfortunately this also meant we had to keep traipsing up and down said hill! Base station two had to be on the other side of the area being surveyed as there were no obvious high points so we had to settle with a sand dune. The next day we returned to commence the task, only to find that the wind had picked up, so much so that the instrumentation that we had set up on tripod legs blew straight over. Down we went to the Land Rovers, retrieved the sandbags and shovel and weighted down the tripod legs, having used the convenient abundance of sand from the dunes all around us. To minimise the likelihood of a passer by stealing our base station survey equipment, we hid all of the survey equipment boxes (used to transport it) within the bunker. Base station two was assembled and we were off, capturing data. Two hours in and the satellite signal died; the battery powering the base station antenna had died. We learned our lesson and opted for the bigger battery the next day. On top of all this, it was raining each morning but by the time base stations were set up, the Jersey sunshine came out for us.

Two survey teams worked in conjunction in each area, communicating by radio. Communications were critical since requirements were updated throughout the day including location of transportation vehicles and logistical challenges; we had to transport people from camp HQ to survey area and vice versa; this used up resource and slowed up the progress of the task in hand. Second World War bunkers and gun emplacements were a strong theme of interest throughout our data collection and acted as useful markers and interesting history lessons! A memorable highlight was when the survey team came to the aid of a lady stranded on the beach in her car. Like good Sappers, we safely recovered her vehicle before the incoming tide swamped it. She turned out to be the daughter of the founder of Butlins but unfortunately we weren’t offered any free accommodation for next year’s camp! Myself and Cpl Morley were busy ‘pinging; points when to our horror, as we were approaching our base station being guarded by our sergeant we saw him, stripped to the waist, his pale white body glistening like a beacon as he took in the radiant Jersey sun. Embarrassed by our heckling since he thought no one could see him hidden in the undergrowth, he quickly got his top back on before any more blinded sea gulls fell out of the sky.

This tech task was also a training exercise and the time taken to overcome problems rapidly diminished as the team became slicker. Once all the information was gathered in the form of GPS linked photographs and GPS data points, they were transposed onto computer and read in conjunction with the existing imagery. The time consuming task of creating the correct international orienteering standardised symbology and correctly classifying parcels of land to the ease of movement was a challenge, especially as we had very little experience of using orienteering maps previously. By day five, tensions were rising in our makeshift Geo Cell; French spellings were being scrutinised, debates on whether bunkers were bunkers or gun emplacements got technical and Naafi breaks had been cancelled. However we were kept entertained throughout by the Radio Jersey karaoke by the chefs in the kitchen next door!

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