Law to ban putting Shetland in a box on maps is ‘stupid’, says cartographer

Law to ban on putting Shetland in a box on maps is ‘stupid’, says cartographer

Friday, October 5, 2018

Cartographer Steve Chilton has said the decision to ban public bodies from putting the Shetland islands in a box is “stupid” and “ineffective”.

Mr Chilton, who is Chair of the Society of Cartographers told talkRADIO’s Mike Graham: “I can’t believe that they are trying to force cartographers to do such a stupid thing to be fair.”

He added: “I am not a lawyer but I have no idea what the status of that law is but it is ridiculous to expect cartographers who are trying to map the whole of the UK because the scale you would have to produce at to get the Shetlands in would negate the possibility of doing the mapping appropriately.”

Islands MSP Tavish Scott had sought to change the law to ban the "geographical mistake" which "irks" locals, by amending the Islands (Scotland) Bill.

The bill's "mapping requirement" has now come into force, although it does give bodies a get-out clause if they provide reasons why a box must be used.


'I don't understand it' 

Map of the British Isles with Shetland Islands highlighted

Mapmakers argue that boxes help avoid "publishing maps which are mostly sea".

Mr Chilton said: “You could have all sorts of difficulties and I don’t understand it.”

He added: “I would argue that if you move it into an inset, you can actually have it on a much larger scale and give it more prominence.

“It does not matter that it is not in the right place. People understand the language of the map and they will understand why it is there.”


'Intensely annoying' 

The Islands Bill aims to offer greater protections and powers to Scotland's island communities, and was unanimously passed in May.

It gives island councils extra powers over activities on and around their coastlines.

It also includes a "Shetland mapping requirement".

The Lib Dem MSP Mr Scott said the common practice of placing Shetland in a box off the Moray Firth or the Aberdeenshire coast was "intensely annoying" to islanders.


'It would be virtually impossible' 

The Ordnance Survey mapping agency said inset boxes avoid "publishing maps which are mostly sea".

A spokesman for the company said: "The Shetland Islands are approximately 245km (152 miles) from the Scottish mainland, from the most northerly part of the Shetland Islands to John O' Groats, and 690km (428 miles) from the most southerly point of the Scottish and English border.

"It would be virtually impossible to print a paper map, with any usable detail, of this vast geography."

Mr Chilton added: “I don’t understand why cartography should be subject to such non-laws because the whole point of cartography is that you make a design decision that makes the appropriate map.

“I am not sure it is actually going to be effective.”