Sir,– Sylvia Thompson's well-researched and well-written article "Ireland needs more detailed land-use maps" (Science, September 19th) is a fair reflection of the challenges facing State bodies, large corporates and institutional researchers with regard to how land-use maps lack up-to-date detail and a comprehensive typology of land cover.
While it is encouraging to discover a solution is in the offing, it sounds as though the only persons and entities who will practically be able to use it will be those who can afford to pay for the numerous high-cost licences: government departments, large corporates and universities.
If the basic data were available to the OpenStreetMap (OSM) community, and could be shared alongside thousands of other spatial features already in the OSM database, this would open up many thousands of new avenues of research, and possible solutions to problems which take full account of land-cover details.
Open-source options like OpenStreetMap allow flatter access to all sorts of data analysts, for cross-sectoral collaboration, and for innovation and richer understanding with spatial data-sets. Not only is OpenStreetMap able to absorb flexibly all of these classification systems, it has an immediate update cycle, transparent error-checking and many eyes with expertise. This is surely the most sustainable approach to managing data. Everyone can see and learn more about this by looking at the website openstreetmap.org and looking at the many tagging and classification options available.
If the solution being designed by a working group again leans heavily on exorbitant licensing arrangements paid for once by the taxpayer, and then commercialised at the point of re-use, then the solution described will continue to be limited. As the saying goes, to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.