Accessing the UK’s Borehole Data

December 17, 2018

Everyone loves boreholes at BGS, but how good are we in the sector at preserving and re-using valuable (and mostly public sector funded) information about the subsurface? A plethora of articles have recently been published about this topic, this one gives an insight into what the British Geological Survey has been doing to handle the increasing amount of digital data and also about a an initiative funded by i3P, called Dig to Share trying to improve the workflows and accelerate the unlocking of huge amounts of legacy data hidden away and unavailable to make more informed decisions about planning and design of infrastructure projects.

The National Geoscience Data Centre (NGDC) which is provided by the British Geological Survey (BGS) collects and preserves geoscientific data. The collection of these unique data assets contribute to a greater understanding of the subsurface which is crucial for managing hazards, understanding natural resources and planning the development of infrastructure both below and above surface.

A number of the collections are deposited under statute, however, many are voluntary deposits. The UK’s Borehole collection holds over 1 million borehole records (many dating back to the 1800s with two of our oldest records pictured below) and stems from ground investigations conducted as part of development and construction work. Boreholes drilled for water resources or mining purposes are required to be deposited with the BGS under statute, but those drilled for civil engineering purposes are not. It is estimated that industry drill more than 20,000 boreholes per year (average cost of £4,000 per borehole). BGS estimate that 80% of borehole data is missing. If the data was captured, accessible and therefore re-used it would create significant costs and efficiency savings, as well as creating an information resource to fuel data models and analytical models. It is estimated that better data sharing could save HS2 Phase 2 £10 million.

BGS has recently engaged with industry partners and its stakeholder community to encourage the deposit and re-use of subsurface data in the UK, addressing the barriers and promoting the value of depositing data where there is no mandate to do so. In tackling the barriers, the development of a UK Data Deposit Portal( makes it simple to directly upload data, in particular, an automated process has been developed to validate industry standard formats (AGS). The development of a single entry point for re-access to national data ( enables the deposited data to be accessed and downloaded via a text or spatial search facilitating its re-use.

Despite the BGS borehole archive being accessed thousands of times a day and the availability of the new Deposits Portal, donations of good quality digital data remained very low. This is where the Dig to Share project (a collaboration between BGS, Atkins, Morgan Sindall and Fluxx, supported by HS2 and funded by i3P) came into play over summer.

The team has flipped the approach to finding a solution to the missing borehole data on its head. Instead of jumping straight to a technical solution, several weeks were spent talking to actual customers of the database (both consumers and producers of GI data) to understand their current experience, barriers to contribution and ideas for improvements. Armed with this insight, elements from the lean start-up methodology, a “fail fast” approach to product design, and running a series of experiments to test customer response to our solution are now being deployed.

The research showed that technology was not in fact a significant barrier to customer behaviour. Instead, inertia, permissions and the pace of the construction process were the main reasons individuals cited for not contributing to sharing data, although most could articulate the value of the centralised BGS database, hosting AGS data.

The experiments will aim to validate three main things: Desirability (Do customers want this?), Viability (Does the business model work?), Feasibility (Can we actually deliver the solution?).

My engaging with customers throughout the process, as opposed to just the start or not at all, the project has real data to back up future investment decisions. A solution will be built that is much more closely aligned to actual, rather than perceived user need, and it should drive larger changes in success metrics like number of borehole records in the database.

The first set of experiments will seek to prove or disprove hypotheses around awareness at both the grass roots and board level of i3P organisations; can commitment by partner organisations, such as internal policy changes, influence the behaviour of individual employees?

This experimentation approach is an iterative, ongoing process that the Dig to Share team will continue to manage, review and adapt as they learn more about how to drive collaboration across the construction industry. If you would like to get involved, please contact the Dig to Share team, via Sophie Payne at You can follow our project updates on Twitter @digtoshare and on our website


  • Holger Kessler, Team Leader – Modelling Systems, British Geological Survey
  • Melanie Marchant, Senior Innovation Consultant, Fluxx Ltd
  • Mrs Sue Roper, GeoInformation Collection Co-ordinator, British Geological Survey
  • Alison Fernie, Records Manger, British Geological Survey
  • Sophie Payne, Practice Manager, Atkins


  1. There are thousands of records held by the BGS that has unnecessary restrictions imposed on them – they aren’t being released because nobody realises or has the authority.
  2. The standard form of contract imply the data belongs to clients and therefore implies liability for the use of the information.  That is not correct when used freely in the public domain.
  3. The BDA is supporting the BGS’s initiative by raising the profile with its members and coordinating with the main geotechnical industry associations.
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