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Free the data!

Dr Richard Hughes

Richard Hughes* explains how recent changes mean better access to more free data.

Geoscientist 16.6 June 2007

In 2007 the British Geological Survey (BGS) made some fundamental changes to the ways in which its digital geological map data (and other intellectual property) are made available for teaching, research and non-commercial (‘not-for-profit’) activities.

Since July 2007 BGS’s GB bedrock and superficial deposits digital map data at 1:625K scale have been available entirely free of charge for non-commercial use (and not even the need to sign a licence agreement!) through the BGS website ( These attributed vector data (available in both ESRI and MapInfo GIS formats) are proving very popular, and we encourage customer feedback through DiGMap-GB625 data-sets can also be used free of charge for commercial innovation purposes and mash-ups (on condition that we are informed should a commercial opportunity arise).

In January 2007 the EDINA Digimap service ( began to serve BGS digital geological map data (DiGMapGB) at 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 scales for the whole of Great Britain to Higher education Institutions (HEIs) for teaching and research. The cost of this service depends on the size of the institution but range from £300 to a maximum of £1800. For HEIs not wishing to subscribe to this service, we run a parallel scheme that offers the same data-sets at similarly discounted prices. This service is also proving extremely popular (>30 HEIs already signed up), and we are in discussions with EDINA about providing more BGS data via the same service.

BGS is also developing a digital teaching materials set for 12 classic areas of British geology. The 'shopping list' for this initiative was provided by the Committee of the Heads of UK University Geology Departments (CHUGD), and includes favourites like Assynt, Ardnamurchan, Bristol, Vale of Eden etc. We expect that the teaching set for each area will comprise our digital map data at 1:50K scale, digital borehole information, digital terrain models and digital aerial photographs. We intend to provide these data free of charge under licence. We are evaluating a pilot DVD, and hope release it in the very near future.

In June 2007 we completely overhauled our policies to allow entirely free of charge re-use of BGS materials (including photographic images) for teaching, academic, personal and not-for profit uses, subject to appropriate acknowledgement. Many HEIs are jumping at this new opportunity to use BGS materials in their teaching and research programmes.

Finally, if your needs and interests lie in secondary and primary education, there is a wide range of free resources available from the award-winning education and popular geology section of the BGS website at

* Dr Richard Hughes CGeol is Director of Information and Knowledge Exchange at the British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottinghamshire NG12 5GG. T: 0115 936 3587. E: