maps visualisation

Mapping £2.6 billion of farm payments

Farmers in England are paid via the Environmental Stewardship Scheme to keep their land in good agricultural and environmental condition. This scheme is smaller than the better-known CAP payments, but still accounts for around £3 billion of public funding over the past decade, which isn’t exactly small potatoes (sorry).

I recently discovered there’s open data about the land in England that’s funded in this way. With Brexit hurtling unstoppably towards us, and no-one sure what’s going to happen to farm funding, it seems like a good time to map it.

Talking to farmers about Environmental Stewardship, it seems broadly positive: it encourages good land management, and provides life support for many small farms. But on the other hand, it’s complex, it subsidises golf courses and grouse moors, and it’s weighted towards bigger landowners. So the current uncertainty could provide an opportunity to simplify and rebalance.

Here, I write about what’s in the data: if you just want to see the map of all payments, go to You can search by payee name, and see the payments near you.

Screenshot of farm payments map

What’s Environmental Stewardship then?

The ES scheme pays farmers to keep their land in good environmental condition, and make it attractive for wildlife. For example, they might leave a strip at the edge of a field unplanted, so that animals and birds can live there, or they might maintain traditional hedges or preserve historic features.

The payments are awarded for entry level, higher level, or organic stewardship. Payments are generally awarded over 5 or 10 years, and the total sum in the dataset (which I think is all current agreements) is £2.64 billion. This compares with annual CAP payments of about £3 billion.

There are just over 26,000 unique ES payments active, to around 20,000 payees. The names in the dataset are the managers of the land, not the owners (otherwise I’d be writing about this over at Who Owns England). Sometimes the managers are individuals, sometimes companies, sometimes LLPs and trusts.

The distribution of plot size is highly unequal: if you rank all the plots by size, the top 10% of payees hold 48% of all the physical land area. The distribution of payments is even more unequal. The bottom 15% of payees receive less than £2,500, while the top 10% each receive more than £259k. About 54% of all the funding – £1.44 billion in total – goes to the top 10%.

(The Gini coefficient – the standard measure of inequality – for the land size of the holdings is 0.62, and for payments is higher at 0.71, which again suggests that the schemes are easier to access for bigger payees.)

The total area of farmland covered by current agreements is just under 3.8 million hectares. The total farmed area of England is about 9 million hectares, so wherever you are in the English countryside, you’re probably looking at land that’s been physically shaped by this scheme.

Biggest payees

Here are the top 15 payees overall. The top payees are wildlife and heritage trusts, and then some big farming groups, generally in the east of the country:

  1. National Trust £51,213,835.15
  2. RSPB £41,228,907.04
  3. VERDERERS OF THE NEW FOREST £19,131,601.84
  4. Forest of Dartmoor Commoners Association £13,600,496.27
  5. NORFOLK WILDLIFE TRUST £10,499,614.08
  6. Surrey Wildlife Trust £7,451,642.10
  7. The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust £6,974,996.65
  8. STANFORD SHEEP £6,230,709.63
  9. Moorhouse Commoners Committee £5,296,905.74
  11. Sir Richard Sutton Limited £4,292,253.83
  12. YORKSHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST £4,223,676.92
  13. ELVEDEN FARMS LIMITED £4,066,993.72
  14. ALBANWISE LTD £3,985,773.08
  15. Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust £3,939,815.48

Some of these “commoners” committees are actually groups of sheep farmers.

You’ll notice the Lilburn Estates entry at number 10, with £4.7 million of grants – that’s a huge grouse moor in Northumberland. The Guardian recently covered a Friends of the Earth investigation suggesting that grouse moor management was anything but environmental, with large-scale heather burning.

As well as these subsidies, the estate receives more than £1 million per year from CAP. It’s owned by Duncan Davidson, founder of mega-housebuilder Persimmon Homes. Here’s the extent of the estate:

Screenshot of Lilburn Estates

Notable payees

As far as I know, anyone can apply for environmental stewardship funding, as long as they do the work required. You don’t need to be a farmer, and the rest of your use of the land doesn’t need to be environmentally friendly.

As well as grouse moors like the above, there’s at least £3.2 million going to golf clubs around the country, though many would regard the mere existence of golf clubs as environmentally problematic. For example, Sunningdale Golf Club, near Virginia Water, has been granted £348,839 for “higher level stewardship”:

Screenshot of Sunningdale golf club

There are some surprising grantees, who might well be doing environmental work, but who could probably afford to do it without public money. Eton, Winchester, Millfield, and Wellington schools all receive funding, as do Jesus, Caius, and Pembroke at Cambridge. The University of Oxford Botanic Garden gets £55k, and Christ Church Meadows in Oxford receives £33k:

Christ Church meadows
Christ Church meadows, looking poor. Pic by Tejvan Pettinger.

There’s also money going to some of the wealthiest landowners around. You can see by searching the payees list that the City of London Corporation gets over £2 million for large areas outside London, the Duchy of Cornwall gets £68k directly and another £136k for the Duchy Home Farm, and the Royal Farms at Windsor receive over £1 million for ‘organic stewardship’:

Screenshot of Royal Farms

Some of the land for which grants are awarded is held offshore – nothing illegal about that, but we might ask whether we want to subsidise property owned in tax havens. The commercial pheasant shoot at the Downton Estate, west of Ludlow, has been granted £800k. The land on which it runs was bought by an Isle of Man company in 2010, as you can see on the Private Eye map of overseas land ownership that I built.

Sometimes, grants go to landowners who are both extraordinarily wealthy, and use offshore vehicles. The Marquess of Cholmondeley has a net worth of £60m, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. His estate at Harpley in Norfolk is owned in Jersey, and receives £400k per year from CAP, and £500k total from ES.

Or take the Culham Court Estate outside Henley, bought for £32 million in 2006 by Swiss billionaire Urs Schwarzenbach. (Schwarzenbach is the delightful chap who sacked his gardener for getting injured.) The land receives £120k per year from CAP and £250k total for ES: the Eye’s map shows that the land is owned by a British Virgin Islands company.

What happens now?

While some of the above might seem absurd, incentivising environmental management of land is obviously sensible. And there’s no doubt that the ES scheme supports many small family farms.

But many bigger landowners could be asked to carry out environmental work without subsidy. It also seems clear that the schemes are easier for ‘big farmer’ to access, while small farms have it tough. (There’s a great discussion of the context in this London Review of Books article.)

So whether our post-Brexit priorities are to support family farms, produce cheap food, protect heritage, or encourage diverse wildlife, we need to discuss how we fund the countryside. Many post-Brexit discussions would benefit from a bit of data: I hope the payments map will help people working on this problem.


Thanks to Will Perrin, Seb Bacon, Guy Shrubsole, and Charlie Fisher for comments on the first draft of this post.

life-hacking visualisation

Sienna, Rihanna, Cameron and Usama: Baby names in England and Wales

If you are a parent, or soon to be a parent, you may already have discovered the US’s Baby Name Voyager. It’s a data-visualization classic, a wonderful way to bring 100 years of American baby names to life. And like (I think) the very best visualizations, it is useful as well as interesting: not only does it reveal broad social trends, but you can hunt for names for your own children.

Recently, for fun, I decided to make a version for the UK, using modern JavaScript (Backbone and D3). The Office of National Statistics only releases 15 years of name data, but I thought that would still be long enough to make a useful tool for British parents, and find some interesting trends. After all, the country has changed plenty since 1996.

So I built a web app called, imaginatively, England & Wales Baby Names. Just like the Voyager, you can look up names for your own children and see naming trends. You can quickly search through the 27,000 names used by parents since 1996, and see the exact number of babies given each name every year since 1996.

I’ve tried to make the tool as easy to use as possible – and if you type slowly, it will show you results letter by letter. So if you’d like a name starting with the letter i, you can search that way. You won’t be alone, because intriguingly, names beginning with i have trebled in popularity since 1996.

Names beginning with i since 1996

The tool also reveals some striking celebrity-related trends – such as the precipitous decline of the name Jordan. In 1996, Jordan was a very popular name, accounting for 5750 boys and 372 girls. From 1996-1998, when Ms. Price was a fresh-faced Page 3 girl, there was a small fall for boys, and a jump for girls. But in the following decade, as her chest inflated, parents increasingly avoided the name – only 268 boys (20 times fewer) and 5 girls were named Jordan in 2010.

Trends for the name Jordan since 1996

I analysed the ONS data to find the top rising and falling names over the period – both in absolute terms, and proportionally. (I define absolute rises in a name by taking the highest number of babies with that name recorded in any year, and subtracting the lowest number in any year. And I define proportional rises in a name by taking the highest number of babies with that name (corrected for the birthrate that year) recorded in any year, and dividing by the lowest number in any year.)

Biggest absolute rises (F)

  1. Lily
  2. Grace
  3. Ava
  4. Evie
  5. Amelia
  6. Ellie
  7. Isabella
  8. Olivia
  9. Mia
  10. Maisie
Biggest absolute rises (M)

  1. Oliver
  2. Ethan
  3. Charlie
  4. Lucas
  5. Noah
  6. Archie
  7. Oscar
  8. Riley
  9. Jayden
  10. Logan
Biggest absolute falls (F)

  1. Chloe
  2. Lauren
  3. Rebecca
  4. Shannon
  5. Megan
Biggest absolute falls (M)

  1. Daniel
  2. James
  3. Jordan
  4. Matthew
  5. Thomas
Biggest proportional rises (F)

  1. Lexie
  2. Amelie
  3. Miley
  4. Macy
  5. Macie
  6. Lyla
  7. Nevaeh
  8. Macey
  9. Ava
  10. Zuzanna
Biggest proportional rises (M)

  1. Olly
  2. Jenson
  3. Kayden
  4. Ayaan
  5. Jakub
  6. Kaiden
  7. Kenzie
  8. Kacper
  9. Filip
  10. Rocco
Biggest proportional falls(F)

  1. Brittany
  2. Jordan
  3. Courteney
  4. Lauryn
  5. Kirby
Biggest proportional falls (M)

  1. Macaulay
  2. Grant
  3. Chandler
  4. Jordan
  5. Courtney

I think of the names with the biggest absolute rises and falls as the seismic trends that will come to define the period. Broadly, in recent years, girls’ names have become more flowery and old-fashioned, while Biblical boys’ names are out of favour.

However, names with proportional changes show fast-moving trends more clearly, and haven’t been analysed in detail before (as far as I know). In the rest of this post, I discuss some trends influencing proportional rises and falls.

Celebrity big brother

No surprise that celebrity is a big influence. Pop stars with unusual names really seem to affect the trends: thus Macy, Miley, Olly, and Kenzie are all in the top-10 fastest risers over the whole period. Pixie was the fastest-rising girls’ name from 2005 to 2010 (83 babies in 2010), and Tulisa was the fastest from 2008 to 2010 (34 babies in 2010).

But other homegrown celebrities have also raced up the charts in recent years: I noticed big jumps for Fearne and Alexa in particular. Keira is popular too, though has fallen since 2004/5.

Celebrity names may also give an insight into public opinion: I enjoyed comparing trends for Jude and Sienna, especially what happens when Jude is exposed as a a CHEATING LOVE RAT in 2005 – the popularity of his name dips sharply, but hers continues to rise.

Trends for Keira since 1996

Trends for Jude since 1996

Trends for Sienna since 1996

Celebrities’ children are a big influence: thus Rocco (Madonna’s son), and Lyla (a derivation of Lila, Kate Moss’s daughter) both appear on the top-10 fastest-rising names. Brooklyn (Beckham) was the fastest-rising boy’s name in the first five years of the period, between 1996 and 2001, and is still on the up.

Not all celebrity names catch on, though: even a beautiful, famous, and multi-talented owner can’t popularise a truly terrible name. Sorry, Nigella.

Incidentally, I don’t think we can assume parents always name their babies “after” a particular celebrity: Myla first rose to fame as the name of an expensive lingerie brand, but has still clearly inspired many parents (79 babies in 2010), who presumably aren’t deliberately naming their daughters after posh pants.

You’re toxic, baby

Some names, like Jordan, are chiefly notable for falling out of fashion over the period. Most striking is Britney, who explodes into fame in 1999 and almost as swiftly falls from favour again (killing the previously-popular name Brittany in the process). Courtney also drags down Courteney. Unsurprisingly, both Usama and Osama fall sharply in popularity after 2001.

Sometimes, celebrities just get less famous. For boys, a big hero-to-zero is early-90s child star Macaulay. And Lauryn Hill’s career never recovered after the late 1990s.

This sporting life

Sporting names, delightfully, seem to mirror their owners’ careers even more precisely than celebrity names. Jenson (the second fastest-rising name over the whole period) is a case in point. It first gains traction in 2000 (when Jenson Button became Britain’s youngest-ever F1 driver), zooms ahead in 2004 when he finished in the rankings for the first time, falls back again, then races up in 2009, when he won the World Drivers’ Championship.

I also noticed this being true of Thierry (peaking at 51 babies in 2004, when he was Europe’s top goalscorer) and Rio (peaking at 355 babies in 2008, when United won the double).

Trends for Jenson since 1996

Trends for Thierry since 1996

Trends for Rio since 1996

Royalty on the rise

Perhaps surprisingly, the young royals’ names William, Harry, Zara and Beatrice are all steadily on the up since 1996 – indeed, Harry is now the 3rd most popular boys’ name, up from 17th in 1996. No sign of a Kate/Catherine bump yet, though.

Political poison

Political names almost invariably seem to have negative, if any, effects. There’s a significant drop in the name Cameron in recent years, and from a lower base, Blair post 1997. And Cherie has collapsed as a girls’ name. I only spotted one political exception (it might be influenced by the rise in Polish names, but still): Boris, slowly but surely on the rise.

Trends for Cameron since 1996

Trends for Blair since 1996

Trends for Boris since 1996

Eastern Europe

The ONS data doesn’t include ethnicity, but if you browse the site for any length of time, you’ll spot a big jump in Eastern European names following the expansion of the EU in 2005. This probably accounts for Filip, Kacper and Zuzanna being in the top-10 lists (though they still account for small numbers of babies overall.)

I think the archtypal British name of recent years may be Jakub, the fifth fastest-rising boys’ name from 1996 to 2010, and the fastest-rising Polish name. Not only is it Polish, it is also a famous footballer’s name (Borussia Dortmund star Jakub Blaszczykowski).

Art and culture

On the list above, Amelie (the second fastest-rising girls’ name over the whole period) is probably the biggest fictional influence, becoming popular after the 2001 film of the same name. The Matrix is also a big film influence in the late 1990s – both Neo (boys) and Trinity (girls) made it into the top-10 fastest-rising names between 1996 and 2001.

From the book world, a notable new name is Lyra, which Philip Pullman invented for His Dark Materials, and inspired a whopping 152 sets of parents in 2009. And I’m not sure this counts as either art or culture, but Chardonnay (in various different spellings, from Chardenay to Chardae to Chardonnai) explodes in popularity after Footballers’ Wives.

And you don’t have to be a pop star or a sporting hero to popularise a name: the fastest-rising boy’s name between 2006 and 2010 was Grayson. The only famous Grayson I know is the ceramicist Grayson Perry. So you can be an artist too.

Trends for Trinity since 1996

Trends for Chard- since 1996

Trends for Grayson since 1996

Finally, we began choosing more unusual names during the last decade and a half. In 1996, the ONS reported 8,671 unique names for 649,488 babies, or roughly 74 babies for each name. By 2010, this had risen to 13,421 unique names for 723,165 babies, or roughly 55 babies for each name. (The ONS does not report names only given to 1 or 2 babies in a year, so a mathematician wouldn’t regard this as proof, but the overall trend is clear.)

And parents consistently show more variety when naming their daughters than their sons. In 2010, there were 7,388 unique names for 352,248 girl babies, but just 6,033 unique names for 370,917 boy babies.

What trends have I missed? Let me know in the comments.

A note on colour: I really wanted to avoid using pink for female names. I tried green and purple, but the visual contrast was poor, and early testers found it confusing. So I used relatively un-girly dark-red pink. Sorry, pink haters.

Try looking for your own name on the site: England & Wales Baby Names. If you want to do your own analysis, please see the ONS raw data, or my aggregated dataset (reproduced under the Open Government Licence), and check out the script I used to identify trends.

fashion visualisation

Introducing… What Size Am I

For many women, there are few things more frustrating than trying on clothes. To put it in terms that my (mostly male) coder friends will understand: debugging CSS doesn’t come close to the blood-boiling irritation of trying to work out whether you are a size 8, a size 10, or both. Because, yes, you can be one size for tops and another for skirts, all in the same shop.

It may surprise men reading this to learn that there is no agreement on what makes a size 10. Shops differ. A lot. When I am shopping on the high street, I take each item into the changing room in two or three different sizes. When shopping online, I’m sure you can see that this is even more of a problem.

Anyway, here is my attempt to help make sizing a bit easier for female customers, inspired by this New York Times article about the madness. The Times pointed out the problem, but they didn’t turn it into a solution – that’s what I’ve tried to do here, having noticed that most stores do publish their own size details online.

And so: presenting “What Size Am I?”, a web app to help women in the UK and the US find clothes that fit.

Here is a screenshot:

What Size Am I? page

As a female hacker, this combines two of my main interests in life: clothes and nice tech. If you’re using a modern browser with SVG support, you should be able to enter your bust, waist and hip measurements in inches or cm, and see an interactive graph of where you fit, from roomy Jaeger to tiny Reiss. If you’re using IE8 or below, you’ll just see a table (sorry IE-using folks).

I’ve also included the closest fits of all (using an admittedly blunt least-squares metric), because it’s helpful to know a shop or two where you’re guaranteed to find things that fit. Currently that’s the kind of knowledge only gained after a lot of Saturday afternoons struggling with a lot of zips.

While working on this, I noticed some interesting trends. Firstly, all stores size in evenly spaced increments – because they are using fitting models rather than individual models for each size – but different stores aim for different markets.

Some retailers seem to cover pretty much every widely available size – in the UK, these include Gap, Marks & Spencer, Monsoon, and Next:

What Size Am I? page

Others are unashamedly aimed at what I call the “fashionable midget” end of the market, like TopShop, Banana Republic and Kate Middleton’s beloved Reiss:

What Size Am I? page

Secondly, I assumed that the fashionable-midget and pricier stores would size smaller, but that’s not actually true. Counter-intuitively, a size 10 in upmarket Whistles, Zara, or Reiss is actually quite a lot larger than a size 10 in ASOS, Monsoon, or M&S.

I think that’s because the “whole of market” stores have larger gaps between their sizes. Or it might be vanity sizing, because Whistles, Reiss et al probably have wealthier, older customers. Who knows?

Thirdly, this is really best shown by comparing sizes with your own body shape, but it’s possible to see the different body types that different shops fit. Compare LK Bennett (light blue) with TopShop (dark blue):

What Size Am I? page

The light blue curves are much, well, curvier than the dark blue. LK Bennett is cut for the strongly hourglass, and slightly pear-shaped: TopShop is more up-and-down.

Broadly and unscientifically speaking, M&S, Karen Millen and French Connection look the most pear-shaped to me: Banana Republic and Warehouse look best for the top-heavy: LK Bennett and Zara are cut for a fitted waist, while Oasis and TopShop appear least curvy overall.

This is pleasing, because it confirms the suspicions I’ve held for a long time. I hope you find the tool useful: if you see anything I could do better, please let me know in the comments.


Building this has been an excuse to play with D3.js, the JavaScript library formerly known as Protovis, which I use to draw the chart. D3 is awesome: many thanks to Mike Bostock for building it and making it open source.