A week has passed since the Land Registry team returned from the assignment in St Helena. We are left reflecting on the work that we did whilst we were on the island and are putting the finishing touches to our report for the St Helena Government.

It’s very clear that the island is on the verge of some momentous changes brought about by the opening of the airport in 2016. It will be a real challenge to ensure that the change is positive for the island and the islanders. A fundamental part of that will be to make certain that the population has protected land rights, and that the system is attractive and secure for any potential investors.

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Royal mail ship St Helena on its way to the island carrying food and equipment. Saint Helena is one of the most remote islands in the world, has no commercial airport yet, and travel to the island is by ship only. A large military airfield is located on Ascension Island, with flights to RAF Brize Norton, England.

I know that the whole team was impressed with the professionalism shown by all of the staff involved in the land registration process and we won’t be proposing any radical change to the overall legislation. However there are areas which would benefit from process and technology improvements and investment to upgrade facilities and assets. We are confident that we have made proposals which are pragmatic in the context of this small island and which have the potential to provide significant benefit. My particular focus of review was the surveying, mapping and GIS activities within the land registration process. There are some very unique challenges concerning map projections, mapping duplication and surveying, to which we could make a significant improvement.

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The adjudication map for the island, which is still currently maintained on a daily basis.

On a personal level I’m sure that I will never again experience the same sense of isolation from the rest of the world and the many difficulties that it creates. Yet, paradoxically, I was amazed at how easy it was to FaceTime into daily Data Programme meetings and I was even interviewed over Skype by a GIS journalist back in the UK. The connection was better and more effective than it often is at home. It proves that in 2013 you can stay connected, even in the middle of the South Atlantic!

The highlight of the trip for me was the day that we were taken on a tour around the airport development. It is a truly mind-blowing project. It’s difficult to capture the full complexity of the whole development without running out of superlatives, but I was particularly struck by one fact:  To construct the runway and surrounding airport facilities, the team heard how 9 million cubic metres of landfill are being taken from one area of the island to infill a gorge on another part. That’s the equivalent of a cube of rock with sides 200 metres long.

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Construction of airport runway and surrounding airport facilities, opening in 2016.

There is no doubt that the original advert to recruit staff for the trip was exactly right – it was indeed the opportunity of a lifetime and one that I know all four of us will always remember both professionally and personally. It was a privilege to be a member of the team.

Find out more about the work of Land Registry’s International Unit.


Dr Andrew Trigg
By Dr Andrew Trigg,
Chief Geographic Information Officer at Land Registry for England and Wales