Mapping natural woodland burial grounds

July 13th, 2018, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: PositionIT, Featured: PositionIT

To locate individual burial plots with confidence, even when they are covered by trees and plants, as well as plan future burial plot use and manage the site, surveyors were tasked to create an accurate, electronic map of a burial park.

Since the 1990s, the concept of woodland burial parks has become increasingly popular. As people are becoming aware of the possibility of being laid to rest closer to nature, more than 250 natural burial parks in the United Kingdom have been created.

Because these sites strive to minimise the environmental impact of the burial process, plots are often not marked with any type of identifier. While that helps foster the mission of a more natural, peaceful environment, it presents some managerial challenges. One such location, Gunton Woodland Burial Park, solved their challenges with the mapping solutions of GIS-provider Pear Technology and the devices of Juniper Systems.

Established in 2016, Gunton was the first environmentally-friendly Woodland Burial Park to be opened in the Waveney and Great Yarmouth area. It is also one of the first of its kind in the UK to be run as a non-profit charity.

Fig. 1: Gunton Woodland Burial Park volunteers planted numerous saplings throughout the burial grounds, which will grow into a beautiful woodland.

Fig. 1: Gunton Woodland Burial Park volunteers planted numerous saplings throughout the burial grounds, which will grow into a beautiful woodland.

Previously an open space of about 12 ha, it was transformed into the beginnings of a woodland. Gunton Woodland Burial Park’s mission is to enhance the natural environment while creating a peaceful, forever resting place. Prior to opening, volunteers planted 7000 British native trees and formed five glades for burial plots, with wild flowers progressively planted in each one. The flora was specifically selected to provide cover and food to attract a variety of wildlife. As this environment matures, it will offer calm, tranquil spaces surrounded by woodland with areas for visitors to sit and reflect.

While the park’s flora is fairly young, visual identification of burial plots is still possible. However, once the woodlands and ground cover mature, the task of finding loved ones buried there will become increasingly more challenging. The Gunton Woodland Burial Trust and park management decided that a better means of mapping and managing the site was needed.

The manager, having contacted the Institute of Cemetery and Crematorium Management, learned of Pear Technology and the work they have done. The trust tasked the company to survey the area and create an accurate, electronic map of the burial park. The results would allow the park to locate individual burial plots with confidence, even if they are covered by trees and plants, as well as plan future burial plot use.

Creating an electronic map

Pear Technology uses GIS surveys and mapping to offer services in a variety of sectors, including farm and estate mapping, tree surveying and management of council assets. For this project, the natural environment and wet weather conditions meant that rugged, long-lasting mapping and data-gathering devices were required.

Fig. 2: The rugged tablet and GPS/GNSS receiver are used in tandem to precisely mark the perimeter, natural landmarks and burial plots throughout the park.

Fig. 2: The rugged tablet and GPS/GNSS receiver are used in tandem to precisely mark the perimeter, natural landmarks and burial plots throughout the park.

Pear Technology used the field computing solutions of Juniper Systems, a company that designs and manufactures ultra-rugged handheld computers and creates field data collection solutions for use in extreme environments.

Using the Geode real-time, sub-metre GPS/GNSS receiver, and the Mesa 2 rugged tablet, the firm surveyed and plotted multiple points on the grounds to create an accurate map of all the park’s features – including significant flora, landmarks, and the park’s exterior boundaries, in addition to all of the burial plots. The maps were then uploaded to an online burial ground management system, Epitaph, which provides grounds managers with all the functions needed to manage the burial park now and in the future.

Pear Technology chose the GNSS receiver because it is a highly-accurate, cost-effective and self-contained real-time GNSS sub-metre receiver that can achieve less than 60 cm 2DRMS horizontal accuracy with no external reference data. It is light, long-lasting (10 hours of use per battery charge), and provides a precise positioning point, making it easy to transport and use in the field. Rated IP68, it withstands high variances in temperature, and is sealed against rain and dust ingress.

The company needed a high accuracy solution to get to below 30 cm for each point. That is important with cremation plots, which are much smaller burial plots to mark out. One cannot ethically or legally disturb buried remains, so it is important to get it right, explained the firm’s Jonathan Smith.

The rugged tablet was a well-suited companion to the receiver for mapping the grounds. The high-visibility, 7-inch screen offers good clarity with capacitive touchscreen ability, and its rain profile allows for continued work, even with rain on the display. The tablet is also rated IP68, and its user-swappable, high-capacity battery can operate the screen for up to 10 hours. It also offers up to five additional hours of operating time from the optional, internal, hot-swappable battery. This makes the tablet and receiver a good combination for the wet weather conditions, and limits time spent outside.

Through two visits, Pear Technology was able to map several variables on the site. The first visit included a physical walk around the perimeter to map the glades and record positions of all existing plots. The surveyors pinpointed plots on the Geode and displayed that data on the Mesa 2’s screen. That information allowed the creation of a new cemetery map, layout for new plots, and layout for cremated remains plots.

Fig. 3: Jonathan Smith of Pear Technology records a point on the tablet, as the handheld rugged computer receives data from the nearby receiver.

Fig. 3: Jonathan Smith of Pear Technology records a point on the tablet, as the handheld rugged computer receives data from the nearby receiver.

During the second visit, Pear Technology used the receiver to transfer data from the map onto the grounds, marking the corners of 15 x 15 m plots. The team also used it to plot five ground-water sampling points. With burial grounds come ground water concerns, and ground water levels are monitored in multiple areas. Burial parks are meticulous about preventing burying too deep or too close to ground water areas.

The plotting and mapping of Gunton Woodland Burial Park is complete, and the plots have been linked with the data in the Epitaph database to ensure complete synchronisation of the data. With this information, the burial park can confidently offer open plots to the public, as well as ensure burial sites are recorded, all while keeping the natural environment undisturbed and thriving.

The surveying firm is increasingly working with existing burial grounds and traditional cemeteries which are looking for maps and measurements to link to their historical records and data. In addition, the company also uses the receiver to assist in situations of burial plot re-utilisation, ensuring accurate measurements and marking of existing graves. With precise documentation of current plots, Pear Technology can confirm the accurate movement and replacement of headstones.

Contact Aciel Geomatics, Tel 011 312-7450, info@aciel-geomatics.com