Drones map our churchyards

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On a beautifully crisp winter’s day this week a strange looking object took to the skies over our churchyards: not a UFO or Mark’s latest toy – and with a price tag of over £20,000 it never will be! – but a highly sophisticated drone used for surveying.

Why?

Well,we are having all our churchyards digitally surveyed for a Burial Ground Management system that has been developed by Atlantic Geomatics of Cumbria. They have been working closely with the Diocese of Carlisle over recent years and have produced an excellent system for producing accurate and easily updatable maps and databases of churchyards and burial grounds and we are the first benefice in the Diocese of Oxford to use them. This will be a very useful management tool utilising the latest technology to solve the centuries old problem of ensuring accurate records are kept.

In just over five hours Tim Viney, Managing Director of Atlantic Geomatics, and Jamie Howe, their qualified UVA pilot, took a complete survey of both our churchyards and buildings. Using hundreds of aerial photographs of the churchyards taken from the 40 meters above the ground together with 100,000’s laser scans taken by the latest 3D hand-held scanner which records 40,000 measurements per second [!] they will produce a pin-point accurate ‘map’ of both our churchyards and church buildings and over time this will be linked with our burial records giving us a complete record of every grave and monument.

IMG_1785.JPGA group of children from Chadlington C.E. Primary School to Chadlington were given a talk about the drones by Tim and Jamie – who then very bravely let them have a go at flying it!  We hope very much that during the summer the children will be able to come back to the churchyard and help us linking the map to the burial registers.

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We hosted a groups of representatives from various national bodies who are interested in the project – Historic England, Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishop’s Council, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and Caring for God’s Acre – as well as the Oxford Family History Society, our friend Canon Glyn Evans, Diocesan Rural Officer and Rob Morgan from Ascott-under-Wychwood who has done much research into the monuments in Ascott.  Over lunch at The Fox in Chipping Norton we were shown a very impressive first computer generated 3D model of Chadlington Church and churchyard – not dissimilar to those shown on the BBC’s Italy’s Invisible Cities!

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All the high-tech equipment used by Atlantic Geomatics is a very long way from some of the burial records that I have taken custody of from the Oxford Records Office for scanning as part of the project.  The above image is taken from the first page of the Enstone Register – dated 1550 ‘in the  raigne [sic] on our most gracious soriragne [sic] Lady Elizabeth’! 

I am delighted that the PCCs of the Benefice have given support to this project and very pleased that we are leading the way in using the very latest technology. When the system is up and running I will host an evening to show how it all works – watch this space.

Strange coincidence too that the drone used looks very much like the Chase Benefice logo!

Mark Abrey
25 January 2017

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You can learn more about Atlantic Geomatics’ Burial Management System on their website here.

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