Catalogue description Welsh Office: Environment Division: Welsh Coastal Survey Database

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Details of BD 80
Reference: BD 80
Title: Welsh Office: Environment Division: Welsh Coastal Survey Database

This Welsh Coastal Survey database contains details of coastal protection for the whole of the Welsh coastline. It also contains a collection of maps showing the location of each defence and some background information relating to the survey. The information was collected following a questionnaire sent to Welsh local authorities and major coastal landowners, probably in 1992, and also utilised existing surveys.

A single dataset was originally transferred to the United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD), representing a snapshot of data in the survey database at the time of transfer (February 1998). It included data gathered in the survey down to 1 December 1996, the inputting of which was completed shortly before the dataset was transferred. The survey was divided into two sections, which correspond to separate tables in the dataset derived from the survey database. These sections are the General Level of Service Survey and the Condition and Maintenance Survey.

The General Level of Service Survey (GLS) provides an overall inventory of the natural coast and coastal defences for the entire Welsh coastline. For the purposes of the survey the coastline was broken down into 'lengths', i.e. sections of coast which had been identified as having reasonably consistent characteristics. For each length the GLS table provides the following information, where details were available:

  • A unique reference code for the length, which includes components identifying the maritime authority (i.e. the relevant local authority) and the Local Flood Defence Committee Area.
  • The pre-1996 maritime district council (after April 1996 these councils were replaced by unitary authorities).
  • The sheet number of the relevant map in the map series produced by the Welsh Office, which was designed to accompany the survey data.
  • The name or a description of the area covered by each length of coastline.
  • The reputed land owner or type of land owner (individual private land owners are not identified).
  • Ordnance Survey grid references representing the beginning and end points of each length, and an estimate of the length of the protection in metres.
  • A classification of the protection as coast protection, sea defence, hard natural coast or soft natural coast. The term 'coast protection' and 'sea defence' were distinctions used by the Welsh Office and other government agencies for different categories of coastal defences. 'Coast protection' was used for defences against coastal erosion and encroachment by the sea, while 'sea defence' was used for defences against flooding. According to the Welsh Office, these terms were based on judgements about the primary function of a defence within a particular stretch of coastline, rather than on the type of defence: e.g. embankments could be classed as coast protection or sea defence, depending on the Welsh Office's assessment of their function.
  • The type of natural or man-made protection evident in the length (e.g. apron, breakwater, hard rock shore).
  • The degree of exposure of the length of coastline.
  • The principal type of land use behind the length.
  • Estimates of the numbers of domestic and commercial properties at risk should extreme erosion or flooding occur.

The Condition and Maintenance Survey (CMS) was intended to provide more detailed information than the GLS about defences which had been classified as coast protection: i.e. defences against coastal erosion and encroachment by the sea. Similar information about Welsh sea defences had been gathered separately by the National Rivers Authority/Environment Agency Sea Defence Survey, and therefore condition-related data about sea defences was not covered by the Coastal Survey - Wales. The CMS table contains data derived from the GLS, including the reference code of each length; the pre-1996 maritime district council; the name or description of the length; Ordnance Survey grid references for the beginning and end of the length; the estimated length of the protection; and the reputed land owner or type of land owner. The CMS also includes the following additional data about coast protection defences, where known:

  • More information about the types of protection in a length of coast (up to four different types of protection could be identified, as opposed to two in the GLS).
  • The materials from which each of the types of protection were constructed.
  • The condition of individual types of protection, and the overall condition of the types of protection.
  • An estimate of the residual life of the types of protection in years.
  • Dates when the types of protection were constructed and last refurbished.
  • The body believed to be responsible for maintaining the coast protection structures.
  • The type of foreshore, the condition of the foreshore, and the extent to which the integrity of coast protection structures was dependent on the level of the foreshore.
  • The crest height of the defence, i.e. the height of the top of the coast protection structure above sea level (in most cases this information is missing).
  • The date when the coast protection structures were last surveyed, the date of any photograph taken as part of the survey, and the sources of information about the structures.

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

Date: 1992-1998

Hardware: IBM or compatible PCs.

Operating System: Microsoft DOS for Windows.

Application Software: DataEase (believed to be version 4.5).

User Interface: The Coastal Survey - Wales database could be accessed by a limited number of users within the Welsh Office using networked PCs. The system allowed data to be displayed in a tabular or a report form for each file in the database. Queries and print outs were also possible.

Logical structure and schema: The dataset consists of two tables linked in a 1:1 relationship: Gen_serv (corresponding to the General Level of Service Survey), and Condits (covering the Condition and Maintenance Survey).

How data was originally captured and validated: Flood and Coastal Defence Branch staff began by compiling the General Level of Service Survey, using data from the following sources:

  • The Coast Protection Act 1949: Report of Survey (Wales), previously published by the Welsh Office.
  • Surveys carried out by other organisations, including the Sea Defence Survey and British Rail surveys.
  • Information supplied by maritime local authorities. A letter and survey form to gather data on coast protection defences was initially sent to local authorities in November 1992.
  • Additional data and knowledge within Flood and Coastal Defence Branch.

Drafts of the GLS were sent to maritime local authorities for comments, and the database was modified in light of their responses. Flood and Coastal Defence Branch then compiled the Condition and Maintenance Survey on the basis of the GLS, and using the same sources of information. These were supplemented by site visits by Welsh Office staff, where significant gaps in the data were identified. These visits were also used to conduct sample checks on data provided from other major sources, in order to establish a consistency of approach and a standardisation of the subjective data collected. A draft of the CMS and a final draft of the GLS were issued to maritime local authorities and to the Environment Agency for comments.

The Coastal Survey - Wales database as maintained by the Welsh Office was dynamic, i.e. data was entered into the database as it was received.

Constraints on the reliability of the data: In both the Gen_serv and Condits tables, information in the Owner field (relating to the ownership of land behind a coastal length) is sometimes missing or is entered as uncertain. There are more gaps in the fields which are unique to the Condition and Maintenance Survey: e.g. in Condits the Year_Const (year constructed), Last_Refurb (year last refurbished), Crest_Ht (crest height) and Survey_Date (survey date). Both the General Level of Service Survey and Condition and Maintenance Survey tables allow more than one type of coastal defence to be recorded for a length of coast. The Gen_serv table allows for up to two types of protection per length, while the Condits table has fields for up to four types of protection. The database did not, however, allow for the recording of more specific information about each type of protection beyond the fact that the Condits table allows each type of protection to be associated with a particular material. It also allowed each type of protection to be associated with an assessment of its condition, though in practice these fields (Cond1, Cond2, Cond3 and Cond4 in the Condits table) are rarely used. Instead, the Welsh Office tended to give an overall assessment of the condition of defences in a length of coast in the Condition_Class field.

Related material:

A similar database for English coastal protection is in MAF 406

Held by: The National Archives, Kew
Former reference in The National Archives: CRDA/6
Legal status: Public Record(s)
Language: English

Welsh Office, Environment Division, 1991-1999

Physical description: 2 datasets and documentation
Restrictions on use: The Welsh Coastal Survey dataset and related documentation are Crown Copyright; copies may be made for private study and research purposes only.
Access conditions: Open
Immediate source of acquisition:

In 2010 the United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets

Custodial history: Originally transferred from The Welsh Office in 1998. The United Kingdom National Digital Archive of Datasets (NDAD) then held the dataset until 2010 when it was transferred to The National Archives (TNA).
Accruals: No further accruals are expected.
Unpublished finding aids:

Extent of documentation: 51 documents, Dates of creation of documentation: 1992-1998

Administrative / biographical background:

Within the former Welsh Office, the Coastal Survey - Wales was conducted by Flood and Coastal Defence Branch of the Environment Division of the Transport, Planning and Environment Group. Flood and Coastal Defence Branch staff gathered the data and input it into the database. Digital maps displaying data gathered in the survey were produced by the Welsh Office's Drawing Office (located within the Planning Division of Transport, Planning and Environment Group).

The Coastal Survey - Wales was a survey of the Welsh coastline and defences against flooding and coastal erosion which was conducted by the former Welsh Office. Work on the survey began in 1992 following consultation with Welsh local authorities. The inputting of data gathered in the survey to create a database using DataEase was commenced at some point after 1992.

The survey was designed to update and expand data gathered in an earlier survey, the Coast Protection Act 1949: Report of Survey (Wales), which was published by the Welsh Office in 1982. It was meant to complement separate surveys by other government agencies: in particular, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's Coast Protection Survey of England; and the National Rivers Authority's Sea Defence Survey. The latter gathered data on the condition of defences along the Welsh and English coastlines which had been classified as 'sea defences' (i.e. defences against flooding from the sea); it was first conducted in 1991, and was later continued by the Environment Agency, the National Rivers Authority's successor. Information from the Coastal Survey - Wales was intended to help the Secretary of State for Wales discharge his responsibilities under the Coast Protection Act 1949, by keeping the adequacy and state of repair of coastal defences under review. It was also intended to inform discussions between the Welsh Office and coast protection authorities over future programmes of capital works, and to help the Welsh Office assess priorities for future expenditure on coast protection.

The survey covered the entire Welsh coastline between the boundaries of the River Wye in the south and the River Dee in the north, as defined in Schedule 4 of the Coast Protection Act 1949. It gathered data about the natural coastline, defences against flooding and coastal erosion, and the condition of coast protection defences. Data was compiled by Welsh Office staff using a variety of sources, including existing surveys, site visits and data supplied by other bodies.

The survey database was supplemented by a series of 1:50,000 scale maps produced by the Welsh Office's Drawing Office, based on Ordnance Survey map data. Copies of the maps have been transferred. They show the locations of defences categorised as coast protection and sea defence, as well as the locations of hard natural coast (broken down into categories), and of soft natural coast (broken down into categories). They also show the locations of breakwaters (a type of coast protection) and the boundaries of post-April 1996 Welsh unitary authorities, and give the last four digits of the code used in the survey for each length of coastline. The maps were produced using a MapInfo Geographical Information System (GIS), but there was no direct link between the GIS and the Coastal Survey database; survey data was added to the Ordnance Survey backdrops by Drawing Office staff.

When a dataset from the Coastal Survey database was first transferred to NDAD in 1998, the survey was regarded by the Welsh Office as a continuing exercise. The Welsh Office intended to review and update the database and to complete records where data was missing. It also intended to extend the database to include typical cross-sections and brief descriptions of coastal defences; photographs; information on extreme sea levels; astronomic tide level data; and other appropriate information from shoreline management plans prepared by local authorities. The long-term goal was to publish the survey when it had reached its final form (in 1998 information from the survey was being supplied to members of the public, local authorities and institutions on request). It is unclear whether or to what extent the Coastal Survey - Wales was continued by the Executive of the National Assembly for Wales, which succeeded the Welsh Office in 1999.

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