Get close to land owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), and you’ll soon know it from the profusion of threatening signs: MOD PROPERTY – KEEP OUT. Some MOD sites have bylaws prohibiting photography, and during the height of the Cold War, top secret military sites were infamously scrubbed from Ordnance Survey maps, leaving them peppered with suspicious blank patches. It’s a helluva big area to keep covered up: the MOD own some 750,000 acres, making them the second-biggest landowner in the UK after the Forestry Commission.
Given this history of paranoia about the location of their properties, then, I was surprised when the Ministry of Defence released to me a map of their entire UK estate.
Granted, it had taken a while. A couple of years ago I’d made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to the MOD for maps of the flood risk faced by their properties, and been rejected on grounds of ‘national security’. This was a tad inconsistent, because they’d already sent me a report on flood risk to MOD sites, which included two maps of their sites – grainy in quality, but quite possible to see where their major landholdings were.
Later, when the Coalition Government introduced its Government Property Finder online service – an initiative aimed at flogging off underused bits of public property – I was bemused to see that it contained a complete list of military properties, and downloaded the lot quickly. Good job I did, because the list of military sites soon disappeared, with only the MOD’s civil properties currently listed. But you can check out the full list of military sites here:
Still, whilst this gave me some point location data for each of their sites, it didn’t give me the actual outlines of their land holdings.
So the other month I tried again, lodging an FOI for a map of all the MOD’s land. This time, it worked. And here they are:
What I’d actually requested, however, was a GIS map (i.e. a digital map that could be analysed and overlaid with other GIS data, not just a static PDF file). So that’s what I’ve gone back to the Ministry to ask for. I’ll let you know if I get it – or if I’m met with the digital equivalent of MOD PROPERTY: KEEP OUT.