A COLLECTION of aerial photographs described as the "historical Google Earth" has been made available online.

Images from Dorset are among the collection, which dates from as early as 1945. The photographs were taken by former wartime RAF pilots at the instruction of Cambridge archaeologist JK St Joseph.

They chart how the UK's built environment changed from the post-war period, with the emergence of motorways, skyscrapers and modern cityscapes.

The pictures are to be made available by Cambridge University.

The first 1,500 photographs from an archive numbering almost 500,000 went live on a website today, Friday.

Cambridge archaeologist Professor Martin Millett, who has frequently used the original photography in his research, said: "Anyone can go to Google Earth and look at modern satellite imagery - but this is an historical Google Earth that lets you travel back through time to a Britain which no longer exists.

"In this first batch of photos, including some very early colour photography, we have cherry-picked some of the best and most beautiful images documenting the changing face of cities, towns and coastlines from all over the UK.

"Cambridge aerial photography was pioneering and unique. No-one else in the world was doing this - it was genuinely world-leading.

"Now, as a historical resource for researchers and the public using the Digital Library, it's a vital and fascinating window into the past.

"Once this material is out there and available, it stimulates people to do things we haven't even thought about yet."

The university borrowed RAF planes and pilots to take photographs until 1965, when it bought its own Cessna Skymaster.

The plane, based at Cambridge Airport, travelled the length and breadth of Britain to capture high-resolution archaeological detail from the air.

Pictures of Lulworth Cove, Corfe Castle and Badbury Rings have been released in the first batch, now available to view via Cambridge University's Digital Library at cudl.lib.cam.ac.uk