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Contributed by
The National Trust


The National Trust is a charity and membership organisation specialising in heritage conservation in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The organisation works throughout the UK to conserve sites of both natural and historical significance.

On its land portfolio of around 250,000 Hectares the National Trust has a duty of care to the public to inspect and monitor tree safety on its sites. The Trust had historically recorded the results of tree inspections through a paper system. However, three and half years ago, the Trust implemented the ArcGIS Online system so that rangers have the choice to use digital methods when out on the field. Through this technology, rangers can access maps via mobile devices, and the data is stored through ArcGIS Online.

The National Trust has a system of zones for inspection, and individual trees within these zones are reported if defects are found. Defective trees are marked for GPS location and the defect is logged alongside any remedial actions that should be taken. Rangers then take a picture of the defects. Once an action has been identified, a priority can be assigned to it as part of a timeline of actions to be taken. The property or regional manager has access to a dashboard containing information on the number of logged defects and outstanding tasks within that area.

Recipe status

This recipe has been in use since January 2018.

We are not sharing this recipe as the perfect solution to a problem, but we believe The National Trust’s learnings could be very useful to other organisations.

Users and needs served

  • As a member of staff, I need a smooth way to collect and access data on the health of trees on National Trust property
  • As a member of staff, I need to be able to share my findings on trees that may be unhealthy whilst I am out in the field on inspections

Software and tools used

Esri's ArcGIS Online

Esri’s ArcGIS Online enables users to build interactive maps that explain data and encourage users to explore. The software can help to create maps and develop perspective through location-based data. Since this is cloud-based software, hundreds of people can interact with the maps at the same time.

The National Trust has been able to develop the user interface through mobile field map functionality, which synchronises with ArcGIS Online and is visible through that solution’s dashboards. This helps with back-office views and operational overviews.


Esri UK offers a Nonprofit Programme, whereby eligible charities and nonprofits can get access to world leading GIS tools at significant discounts. You can find more information about this here.


The mobile app can be used online and offline. In offline mode, data can be gathered in the field and synchronised when the user is connected to Wi-Fi.

The app can be used for different kinds of field research, not just tree inspections. In a few hours, it is possible to produce a basic form and interface, and get people ready to use it.

Online and offline synchronising capability is excellent. 80% of the areas in which the National Trust works do not have good network coverage. Esri’s ArcGIS worked effectively in these areas.

Some people don’t synchronise data for long periods of time. This can cause issues when finally synchronising because there is more data that needs to be updated into the system.

Recipe steps

1. Use a ‘train the trainer’ approach

Identify a small group of champions from your pool of field workers to promote the use of digital in the field.

Train this group of people so that they can, in turn, train the rest of the field workers.

Include this small group of champions in the prototyping and development phases of the project.

It’s helpful for the users to be taught by other people in the same position so that they feel that the software really is there to aid their work.

Create web guidance and videos for your staff to refer to.

2. Prototype the product

Review the paper-method way of working and decide what to replicate from this method and what to change as you transition to a digital model.

Rapidly develop the prototype and test in the field with your champions.

3. Informally roll out the service

Offer field workers the option of trialling this digital method. You want the user community to self-promote, so it shouldn’t be compulsory at this stage.

Produce training documents and videos, as well as face to face training for the varying levels of confidence that field workers have.

Run this service for 18 months and let the community support and promote itself. Try not to make too many changes at this stage so that people don’t feel overwhelmed.

4. Iterate the process

Conduct user feedback surveys at the end of the 18 months as you begin to iterate your design and service.

Begin the full transition to a digital mode of working. Only make it mandatory when field workers feel comfortable that the process works.


Don’t impose or make mandatory a new tool that isn’t wanted or that field workers may feel sceptical about.

Try to get a prototype that works both online and offline, because field areas usually don’t have great network coverage.


There can be incidences of rangers not using the software for its purposes. You may end up with too much data, such as images of trees that aren’t actually unhealthy. Create clear communications with people using the software about what needs to be documented and what does not.

Some mobile Users will never use digital solutions – this is to be expected.

Points of contact

For further information about this recipe, you can contact:

National Trust

Harriet Gwilt at Esri UK


Many thanks to The National Trust for contributing this recipe.


This recipe is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.

That means you are free to copy, redistribute, and build on the text of this recipe, but only for non-commercial purposes (if you want to use it for commercial purposes, get in touch with us at [email protected]). You must give credit to both Catalyst and The National Trust and link back to this page. If you build on this recipe then you must share your version under this same licence.

Recipe published on May 10th, 2021. Last updated August 6th, 2021