At the heart of geographical enquiry lie questions concerning the use people make of the land. Twice this century, in the Thirties under Dudley Stamp and in the Sixties under Alice Coleman, efforts were made to map land use categories of the entire UK, producing swathes of maps and field sheets like a modern version of the Domesday Book.
Over a remarkably brief period of six weeks in 1996 the Geographical Association, under the inspiring leadership of Rex Walford and others, organised 1,500 schools and 50,000 people to produce a similar survey of 1,000 one-kilometre squares with the co-operation of the Institute for Terrestrial Ecology. This book is the fascinating report of a "remarkable achievement". It is at one level an in-house account of who did what and how for the benefit of the participants, but with the essential function of explaining the process. At another it represents a succinct summary of methods and findings which will have lasting value well into the next millennium.
For those involved, it was not merely a mechanical recording of what was there at the time under agreed classifications, but also the identification and recording of "national issues" such as housing developments, corner shops, supermarkets and power pylons.
Surveyors were finally asked to express views and visions of how they felt about the areas in which they worked, picking out such issues as traffic and the character of rural areas. The survey combined, therefore, a valuable piece of geographical research with valid educational experiences for those who took part.
Preliminary analyses have revealed some intriguing details, for example that the area devoted to forest and woodland in Britain has doubled since the 1930s and that the percentage of open space in urban areas is three times that of industrial use.
Admittedly the coverage is only a sample, but the many maps, tables and pointers for discussion gathered together by the editor from the contributions of more than a dozen authors will no doubt whet the appetites of all readers whether geographers or not.
The Land Use CD-Rom, published by Matrix Multimedia using results from the same survey, is reviewed in the Computers Update on page 35.