Condition surveys allow managers to monitor changes in the condition of networks and to make informed management decisions. There are many different approaches to condition surveying, and many methods.
The best surveys have the following features in common. They:
- collect only the data that is needed – it is easy to make the mistake of recording everything possible but this makes the survey laborious to carry out, making it slow and expensive.
- are replicable – if changes are to be monitored the survey method must be capable of being repeated by a different person. Well designed surveys do not rely on subjective decisions and should give the same results whoever carries out the work.
- do not require heavy or easily damaged equipment to be used – if computers are used they should be small and waterproof, similarly any measuring equipment should be designed for outdoor use and portable.
- use photographs – photographs can be very informative but must be indexed and referenced to the locations they were taken at if they are to have any value.
- use GPS to record geographical locations which improves both accuracy and speed.
Cornwall County Council commissioned a full condition survey of the path network in May 2004. 2,672 miles (4,275 km) of public paths were surveyed in detail by a team of five surveyors working through the summer. Equipped with field computers and global positioning systems, the team recorded 31,402 items of furniture (gates, stiles, signs etc) and identified 16,612 maintenance issues. Conducted by the country's most experienced path survey company, the results provide a detailed, comprehensive and objective information resource which has been used as the basis of the authority's Path Improvement Programme.
Sample condition survey from the Pennine Way National Trail
The Pennine Way National Trail is 268 miles long and passes through thirteen Highway Authority Areas.
Management of the trail is based upon the Quality Standards for National Trails, produced by Natural England. Natural England funds improvements to the trail at up to 100% and maintenance at 75%.
The purpose of the condition survey is to enable Natural England to promote consistent quality standards along the Way, to prioritise funding and to monitor progress towards achieving the quality standards.
The Survey is carried out at intervals of 18 months to enable summer and winter trail conditions to be monitored.
The Pennine Way National Trail Officer and the relevant member of staff from each of the managing authorities carry out the survey. This allows for discussion and agreement as to the work required on site without further site visits.
The fieldwork takes approximately 25 working days.
The survey is based upon Path Surveyor software linked to the Countryside Access Management Geographical Information System (CAMS) produced by Exegesis Ltd. The use of this package allows for each survey to be an update of the initial baseline survey as opposed to a totally new survey each 18 months.
To enable the system to operate the Pennine Way has been broken down into 565 links.
The initial baseline survey recorded all path surfaces and infrastructure as well as maintenance tasks. The follow on surveys record changes to the surfaces and infrastructure, completion of maintenance tasks and any new maintenance tasks.
The survey is carried out using a hand held computer with built in digital camera and is linked by bluetooth to a Global Positioning System (GPS). This is enclosed in a waterproof rugged case.
The survey data is uploaded to the hand held survey computer from CAMS at the start of the survey and is downloaded to CAMS on completion.
A typical day's surveying is between 10 and 15 miles dependent on terrain. The surveyor selects the path section to be surveyed on the hand held computer and then records any changes to the data displayed on the digital map from the previous survey. Any change in surface or infrastructure, completion of maintenance task or addition of new task is recorded by Grid Reference, Digital Image, description of what work is required, a priority and an estimated cost. Once the path section is completed the section is saved and the surveyor selects the next link.
The output of the survey is in the form of 'job sheets', which include a location map, a photo of the site and a description of the works required.
The job sheets are distributed to the Highway Authorities who use them for submitting grant bids to Natural England and for instructing work teams/contractors to carry out the work.
The condition survey has proved highly effective in improving maintenance of the Pennine Way on the ground. Much of its benefit is in ensuring that the whole of the Way is walked by both the Pennine Way National Trail Officer and the Highway Authority staff at a regular intervals and that work is agreed and recorded during the walk. The paper free survey technique greatly reduces the double handling of data, and the use of a GIS to control the survey data ensures that the survey data is easily interrogated and remains live as opposed to a survey report that gets placed on a shelf and forgotten.