Catalogue descriptionDepartment of the Environment and successor: Rural Affairs Directorate and Successors: Countryside Information System Datasets

Search within or browse this series to find specific records of interest.

Date range (yyyy):

Details of AT 73
Reference: AT 73
Title: Department of the Environment and successor: Rural Affairs Directorate and Successors: Countryside Information System Datasets

The datasets in this series represent the Countryside Information System (CIS) and contain habitat and landscape information and a wide range of environmental data, including landscape features, vegetation habitats and topography. The CIS can be linked to kilometre resolution grid references and stored, manipulated and presented in graphical and tabular format. The Ordnance Survey and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland grid reference systems mean that CIS runs in two modes, one to describe Great Britain, the other Northern Ireland (NI). Both modes are components of the standard system.

CIS handles three types of data: census, sample and region.

A census dataset stores one value for every land square that has data. The values stored for each square may be either numerical values (such as area of deciduous woodland or mean summer temperature) or attributes (such as name of predominant county).

A sample dataset also supplies a value for every land square that has data, but the values are calculated from sampled data. A special census file called a landclass file is created that allocates one of up to 80 landclasses to every land square and also optionally indicates the applicable area on every land square. The sampled data then consists only of one value for each of the landclasses - a maximum of 80 different values, depending on the exact classification used. CIS calculates the value applicable for each square as it is needed.

Finally, a CIS region is merely a set of land squares. For example, a region may consist of all the squares containing Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), all the squares with more than 90% urban cover, all the squares with a mean altitude over 500m and so on. A region file holds a single region.

One of the important features of the CIS is its ability to handle sample information using stratification. The system is supplied with data collected using the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE) Land Classification and the Northern Ireland (NI) Land Classification, but it can be used with any classification that divides the kilometre cells into different strata. The stratifications need not be complete, but only cover the region of interest, so for example a classification for Wales can be derived and used in the system.

The datasets in this series are available to download. Links to individual datasets can be found at piece level.

Date: 1989-2000

Operating System: Windows NT4.

Application Software: CIS was written in Microsoft Visual C++ version 6 using Microsoft Foundation Classes 6.0. It was migrated from earlier versions of Visual C++. The program fully utilises the MFC document-view architecture and supports three distinct types of documents: region, census and sample. The file / class structure supporting each type of document is similar.

CIS is a system which allows users to work with and analyse data by overlaying and mapping different kinds of data about the UK countryside. The CIS is a raster based system, which means that the data is stored as a regular grid of pixels.

User interface: Access to the CIS was via the internet. Users could download the programs from the CIS web site ( The CIS allows users to enter their own data and extrapolate or refine the values before producing tabular results and geographic distributions.

When a census or sample file was opened the user viewed any of the included datasets on the country map. All squares were coloured with one of up to ten colours showing the detailed topology, species distribution, character areas or land class distribution across the whole country. Passing the mouse over the map displayed individual data values in the status bar. Mapping controls enabled the map to be redrawn with any colours or ranges.

Logical structure and schema: The Countryside Information system 1992-1997 is stored here as 10 datasets with 120 tables exported from 10 CIS data-files.

Relationships have been inferred between a number of tables. All tables created from the CIS sample files (all tables in the first six datasets) have a relationship to the landclass table. This is a feature of the CIS system, where in order to open any of the sample datasets, the system simultaneously references the landclass file defined for that sample file. Relationships have also been inferred between the CIS Census files, tables counties, eng_scot_wales_iom, environmental_zones, area_weightings and land_class. No relationships were defined between these tables and those tables within the Land Cover Map 2000 dataset, since the Land Cover Map 2000 dataset archived here is a sample with data for the South East of England only.

Validation performed after transfer: Details of the content and transformation validation checks performed by NDAD staff on each dataset are contained in the catalogues of individual datasets.

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Copies held at:

Further information about the CIS in general and current versions of the system can be obtained from the CIS web site (

Former reference in The National Archives: CRDA/46
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Department of the Environment, Rural Affairs Directorate, 1979-1994

Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Wildlife Countryside Directorate, 1997-2001

Department of the Environment, Wildlife and Countryside Directorate, 1994-1997

Physical description: 11 datasets and documentation
Restrictions on use: Access to some of the related dataset documentation is restricted. Subject to Crown Copyright; copies may be made for private study and research purposes only.
Access conditions: Open unless otherwise stated
Custodial history: Originally transferred from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs from 2001. The United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD) then held the datasets until 2010 when they were transferred to The National Archives (TNA).
Selection and destruction information: Selected according to acquisition criteria Impact of the state on the physical environment.
Publication note:

Publications include: Stark G; Barr C; Watkins J (1997) Using the Countryside Information System to Inform Woodland Policy in Arboricultural Journal. 21, 127 - 136.

Unpublished finding aids:

Extent of documentation: 27 documents, Dates of creation of documentation: 1991-1997

Administrative / biographical background:

In 1979 the Directorate of Rural Affairs was created within the Department of the Environment, taking over responsibility for rural affairs. Its primary function was to co-ordinate countryside policy. This involved liaison with interested bodies such as the Countryside Commission, the Development Commission, the Nature Conservation Commission, and the National Parks Planning Boards. It was also concerned with planning and research advice with regard to the countryside, coastal areas, recreation and tourism, and rural environmental issues, including protection of wildlife. The Directorate of Rural Affairs retained these duties until 1994, when it was replaced by the Wildlife and Countryside Directorate. In 1997, the functions of the directorate were transferred to the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.

The Countryside Survey was a major audit of the British Countryside involving the collection of data such as habitat types, hedgerows, plant species and freshwater invertebrates. As well as repeating previous measurements, it established new techniques in the integration of field-based and satellite observation of the earth's surface. Many of the sample sites were first visited in 1978 and subsequently in 1984 and 1990 providing a time series of changes in the countryside.

The Countryside Information System (CIS) has also used data from the Countryside Survey 2000 (CS2000), which repeated and extended previous surveys undertaken at intervals over 20 years. CS2000 was a partnership between several government departments, agencies and the Natural Environment Research Council, in the form of a jointly funded research programme.

Thus the objectives of CIS were principally to enable policy advisors to have, in a standard format, a wide range of information about the countryside and in particular the results of the Countryside Survey. It also allowed the exchange of this information; the display and manipulation of the data to support a variety of tasks, such as policy development and appraisal, as well as support monitoring and audit tasks. Due to its availability on-line at, it also enabled other organisations and individuals to access and view the information. Another purpose envisaged for CIS was the creation of a standard electronic format for the interchange and viewing of a wide range of strategic environmental and countryside data.

The CIS underwent a review of its development in 1999-2000. The aim of this review was to assess the role of CIS in the context of other information strategies and systems in use by the Department and its partners, including the National Biodiversity Network, Departmental and agency IT and Geographic Information System (GIS) strategies and off-the-shelf GIS and mapping packages. The project was to be an independent and fundamental review of CIS making recommendations for further development of CIS, and/or suggesting alternative approaches.

Have you found an error with this catalogue description?

Help with your research