Marhofn 316.18 - May 2016

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The Database of British and Irish Hills - past, present and future

Chris Crocker

During 2015, we added the Sibs and made some structural changes around Simms and parents. Internally, Simon Edwardes addressed a growing problem by creating a new database to handle GPS data. Submissions averaged 106 per week, of which 61% were for Tumps below 500m. The increase is very welcome as the database depends on contributors for the majority of its ten-figure grid references. However, checking and validation, discriminating between different summit locations, weeding out dodgy measurements and spotting typographical errors was becoming burdensome. Users have benefited too, as changes from GPS data feed through to hill-bagging much faster than before.

When Graham Jackson and I created the hills database, we never thought it would become what it is today. A number of landmarks have been passed on the journey from 2857 hills and 12 lists to 20657 hills and 40 lists:

2001: version 1 launched

2005: first ten-figure GRs from GPS; data overhaul begins with Wainwright outlying fells

2006: first precision survey - Birks Fell

2008: user survey to guide database development

2009: merger with; Access database revamped

2010: Change control database; Creative Commons licence; second user survey

2011: Irish hills added; editorial team reaches seven

2012: data sharing agreement with MountainViews

2013: completion of data review (7884 hills) using Geograph mapping

2014: Tumps added, doubling database size

2015: reaches 5000 registered members; 500 downloads of v14.3.

In the early days we regarded the database as a baggers' tool. The change in our thinking came when we added ten-figure grid references. Many websites gave inaccurate or out of date hill lists. So we decided we would try to offer the best hill data available in a database that we hoped would become definitive. Three-quarters of hillwalking websites and all current Smartphone apps now take data from the DoBIH.

Right from the start the database has benefited from the support of others. The main contributors are acknowledged in the database notes, but many other walkers have reported errors or have improved data on specific hills. In recent years, surveyors have had the biggest impact on data quality. Over 5% of summits in v15.1 have been surveyed to decimal precision. A hundred have come from MountainViews in Ireland, 136 from GJ Surveys, 260 from Myrddyn Phillips and a massive 618 from Alan Dawson. There have also been many col surveys and a further 57 marginal Deweys and Nuttalls have had their drop measured by automatic level and staff.

The DoBIH is demand led. This keeps us customer focused and helps to prevent us from being associated with particular authors or ideologies. It also provides justification for declining requests for new lists, sometimes from authors who see the DoBIH as a means of promoting their baby. We did depart from our policy in version 12 when we added many Scottish P20s. This 'Nuttallisation of Scotland' attracted some criticism. We felt the additions were justified for topographical completeness (and are very useful for identifying future candidates for promotion) but it is unlikely we will do anything similar again. Others think we should focus more on notability. That would be all right if people agreed on what is notable. Meanwhile, we have tempered our policy by anticipating future demand.

Most of the British hills are now in the database and belong to some list or other. It is becoming difficult to invent lists that offer baggers something new and exciting. Some recent proposals are just subsets of the Humps and Tumps. But what about historic lists? The Yeamans have their supporters. We have had requests for Dewey notables, more old English and Welsh 610m lists, and Marsh's lists of Welsh and English hills. All these are long out of print. Are we justified in keeping alive a list that might otherwise fade into oblivion? Should we take a stand against any more subjective lists, such as those derived from guidebooks?

I think the time has come to review the DoBIH's philosophy and policies, with input from our user base. So the next customer survey will go beyond asking about new lists and features. I had intended to run a survey last year. In the event, other things got in the way and we had learned enough from the discussions on the RHB group to know what to do in version 15. There is now a feeling within the team that after all the changes in the last few releases we need a period of consolidation and reflection. Do not expect any major developments for a while.

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