Topographical surveying in the Outer Hebrides

Robbie Cowan, Technical Director Land Survey, and a team of specialist topographical surveyors have recently returned from surveying key coastal infrastructure in the Outer Hebrides. Robbie shares their experiences of topographical surveying in these remote island communities.

So after a lot of logistical planning of accommodation and travel arrangements, the day had finally arrived for the first survey team to mobilise to Stornoway.

The surveying project was to support a potential future flood forecasting and warning system for the Outer Hebrides, by collecting critical ground topographic survey at specific communities, roads and causeways and key infrastructure at risk from coastal flooding. We were looking at 14 individual sites located throughout the Outer Hebrides from Stornoway down to Barra, where the potential flood forecasting and warning system could be located.

Week 1 and getting there

The drive up the A9 and A835 was scenic and the ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway although a bit rocky, arrived safely and on time. The first site was along the coast, alongside Stornoway Airport, and yes, there was a stiff breeze blowing although thankfully dry overhead. The helpfulness of the airport staff made the survey easy – one down, only another thirteen to go.

Outer Hebrides surveyA couple more sites were completed around Stornoway over the next few days and then it was time to head south. We had to check the ferry times from Leverburgh to Berneray as they were potentially amended due to the tides – but all was fine.

North Uist would be the base for the next week with various coastal villages and causeways being surveyed. Using both Leica and Trimble GNSS receivers on both SmartNet and VRS correction systems, everything was running smoothly.

Week 2

Into the second week and great progress had been made, with the surveyors now down to the North Uist to Benbecula causeway. It was time for a change over of the teams. Survey Team 2 was arriving on the early morning flight from Glasgow to Benbecula. The plane then made a short trip up to Stornoway and back, which gave just enough time for a quick catch up and the swapping of van keys, before Survey Team 1 caught the return flight from Benbecula back to Glasgow.

Outer Hebrides survey 2019Another few sites were completed on Benbecula before it was time to head down to South Uist. A chat with a local resident brought some serenity to the survey and a stark reminder of the potential ultimate consequences of flooding. In January 2005, five members of one family lost their lives fleeing a storm when both their cars were washed away whilst crossing the causeway that we had just surveyed.

Week 3 and getting home

A few more sites were completed on South Uist and with the weather about to change for the worst, time was of essence. The next few days were the calm before the storm, just enough time for the ferry trip from Eriskay to Barra and the survey of the last site on Barra. The Surveyors timed it nicely to see a plane come into land at Barra Airport on the beach. After a quick turnaround, the plane was off again, with spray and sand flying up behind it.

With all sites surveyed, the weather had been kind and the views often outstanding, all that was left was to catch the early morning ferry from Barra to Oban and to get back onto the mainland. As a final salute to the trip, this journey was accompanied by a group of dolphins escorting the ferry across the Little Minch.

Want to know more?

For more information about the Outer Hebrides surveying project and about our surveying team email Robbie Cowan. You can also find out more about our surveying services here.


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