Wednesday 4 May 2016

Where have all the woods gone from Google Maps?

Very recently there was a nice post by Justin O'Beirne about the cumulative effect of changes to the cartography of Google Maps.  Richard Fairhust summarised his views on twitter:

This is just my (very) minor contribution to the discussion.

The Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI) uses Google Maps as the background to their maps of plant distributions. Over the past couple of weeks I've been using it a lot because I've been interested in two things:
  • Where I might fund particular plants relatively close to where I live;
  • Which plants I see might be of interest to the county recorders.
As at this time of year many of the botanical highlights are to be found in ancient woodlands it's damn useful to see where the woods are when assessing the BSBI records. That's why I noticed woods disappearing from the Google cartography as one zooms in.

This screenshots shows successive zooms of an area in central Nottinghamshire which includes Clumber Park an two old woods, Gamston & Eaton Woods. The latter two are centre right above the village of Askham.

All woodland just disappears between these two zoom levels.

Here's the active map so one can play with zooming in & out.

Losing woods at high zoom levels is another example of loss of functionality. In practice it makes the maps layer useless for interpreting botanical data: I have to resort to using the satellite layer. Even that is not always easy because sometimes fields also appear dark green.

Google does use a couple of other green shades for things like parks, golf courses, and possibly nature reserves (see Sherwood Forest NNR near Edwinstowe). I don't know if these come on and off in a similar arbitrary pattern.


  1. G. maps is less of a map and more of a hanger for adverts and it always has been. As people view G. maps Goog is building up their knowledge of popular areas to try to increase the advert coverage there. Anyone who uses G. maps as their base layer is always at the whim of Goog and still open to being charged for the use. This is why people speak of G. maps and OSM as competition for each other I just chuckle.

    OSM gives options about this, but as the Standard render is also held at the whim of the design team, people can accuse OSM of similar unannounced changes. OSM does allow anyone access to the data so they can render their own map, though hosting may not be free and cartography is either hard to learn or not free to buy.

    G. maps continues to be a reliable, easy option, so people use it.


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