Unexploded bombs left on MoD training grounds pose a significant risk and mapping contaminated areas has streamline the UXO clearance process.

Improving contaminated land management for the MoD

Unexploded bombs and other ammunitions left on MoD training grounds can pose a significant risk to the general public and the environment. The Environmental Science Group (ESG) uses Esri’s ArcView solution to help it examine potentially contaminated land and operate as efficiently as possible to prioritise clearance activities.

The Customer

The Environmental Science Group (ESG) is part of the MoD, responsible for contaminated land remediation. Assessing and managing land contamination affects the availability of training areas and the future redevelopment of the defence estate. The ESG is focused on reducing the risk from any substances that could harm people or the environment, principally by managing the risk of buried ordnance along with general environmental management.

ESG can produce maps of potentially contaminated areas, such as training grounds, up to 75% more quickly than before

ArcView reveals concentrations of potential risks, allowing ESG to focus its resources on priority areas and operate more cost efficiently

The use of GIS improves communication with stakeholders including the MoD, bomb disposal teams, local people and the Environment Agency

The Challenge

Working mainly for the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Army bomb disposal units, the ESG’s team of environmental and ordnance clearance experts reduce potential threats by prioritising sites for excavation.

Possible Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) contamination is a key task, assessed by towing a series of metal detectors over the land to identify ferrous material, metal objects, some rock types and other background ‘noise’. This creates geographically referenced datasets of possible UXO readings that are incredibly large, e.g. 1 million data points for an area of 8km2. The data is then filtered and cleaned up using Geosoft’s Oasis Montaj geophysical software to identify likely UXOs.

A specific visualisation tool was wanted, along with enhanced intelligence on UXO by integrating different sources of information, such as historical photographs and maps. Bren Hodkinson, Environmental Science Group Team Leader explained: “Montaj’s mathematical capabilities are designed for processing geophysical data so we wanted a tool that would complement it for displaying and interpreting the data, to increase our operational efficiencies and improve how we communicate our findings to stakeholders.”

“ We recognised that a GIS tool would fit the bill, so chose Esri’s ArcView because of how it can visualise, manage and analyse geographic data

Bren Hodkinson – Environmental Science Group Team Leader

The Solution

“We recognised that a GIS tool would fit the bill”, said Hodkinson, “so chose Esri’s ArcView because of how it can visualise, manage and analyse geographic data.”

The filtered and cleaned data is exported from Oasis Montaj into ArcView, as a graphical image. Historical range maps, aerial photographs, historical target returns, and data from previous visits are added. The combined data is then examined within ArcView. The results help direct bomb disposal teams to areas in priority order, using guide maps, also created in ArcView.

“One of the main reasons we selected Esri was because of its presentation capabilities. We use it a lot for analysing different sets of data and adding or subtracting different data layers”, commented Hodkinson.

Using real-time GPS units with an accuracy of 2cm, ESG or bomb disposal teams inspect a clearance site, using positions marked for excavation. All information on what was found is fed back to ArcView to inform future searches in the same area. Data captured in the field also helps personnel to see where there is a concentration of ordnance and so where to focus resources.

In addition to an analysis and communication tool, the ESG team use ArcView for archiving: they build up a chronological picture of each UXO to aid teams revisiting sites that need ongoing inspections. A library of maps is being created; these can be overlaid on current findings, to help narrow down a search area.

“We can now exploit other data sources to help inform our clearance strategies, visualise any potential risks from UXO and share this output with all parties involved”, said Hodkinson.

“ Esri has given us a new way of interrogating and presenting the data, which streamlines the UXO clearance process

Bren Hodkinson – Environmental Science Group Team Leader


ESG has been employing the new techniques successfully, in collaboration with a military bomb disposal team in South Wales, on a task requiring repeat visits over a large area. Results have shown that having an improved understanding of the site has enhanced the cost effectiveness of UXO risk management.

What stood out most was the ease of creating different views or maps and the quality of output, as Hodkinson highlighted: “The quality and accuracy of the work we can produce with ArcView is probably the biggest benefit. This leads to improved communication with stakeholders, including MoD customers, bomb disposal teams, land management agents, local people who live near a site and regulators such as the Environment Agency or custodians of land including Natural England”.

Increased productivity is a related benefit. Initial estimates of improved efficiency for map production highlight tasks that used to take 3-4 hours typically taking just an hour now. ESG also enjoys access to a larger network of ArcView users within the MoD and defence industry that it could not previously communicate with as easily as now: they use ArcView to share data more easily, benefiting from Esri’s large defence user community.

“ The quality and accuracy of the work we can produce with ArcView is probably the biggest benefit. This leads to improved communication with stakeholders

Bren Hodkinson – Environmental Science Group Team Leader

The Future

In the future, ESG plans to keep adding to the type and volume of information it can analyse within ArcView, including more historical photographs, natural environmental data and firing range information from MoD archives.

“Overall, Esri ArcView aids the effective direction of ordnance clearance resources”, concluded Hodkinson. “It helps to characterise the sites we examine so that we can make more informed decisions and prioritise our activities, which ultimately leads to improved safety for our staff and others, and better environments for the future.”

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