Data Collection and GIS

Not that long ago, when I went out surveying say for a Phase 1 Habitat Survey, I would have with me a notebook and pencil, a paper map or plan of the site and maybe a camera as well. Notes were scribbled into the notebook and onto the paper map to describe what I saw and occasionally I may take some photographs which could later be used to jog my memory. Notes invariable got wet, ink ran and sheets folded a copious number of times. 

Back at the office another map or plan was printed off so I could draw and ‘colour in’ more carefully than in the field what I saw. Somehow this new map had to end up in a professionally written report. The copying process was inaccurate and time consuming. Additionally a hand drawn map didn’t quite look professional enough compared to the word processed report. So, I’d hand the paper map over to those who knew the dark art of GIS and a computerised and very professional looking map was produced.

These days when I go out to do a Phase 1 Habitat Survey or a Breeding Bird Survey I use an iPad with GIS software. I can record geographical point data, features and habitats as well as take photographs, which are also geographically linked. I can accurately record data in a fraction of the time and therefore can spend more time investigating. Although I admit I still enjoy use a notebook and pencil, old habits die hard. When back in the office, I simply download the data from the iPad straight into GIS software. This data is stored in our secure in-house database making it easy to analyse and generate reports. Nevis Environmental uses QGIS which has the benefits of using a similar set up as ArcGIS but it's free.

Having had some excellent in-house training on using QGIS software even I, in a relatively short period of time, can produce a professional map for a report. The final product is a map of layers which can be manipulated to provide further information. Statistics can be gleaned from the data on area and length of habitats. Other tools in QGIS can be used in conservation management. The buffer tool can place a zone surrounding a habitat to show impacts or influences on that habitat at any given distance. The distance between habitats can also be measured, a useful tool if calculating migratory distances of certain species from one habitat to another.

Technology has moved on from hand drawn maps using overlays to software capable of mapping and producing statistics. Electronic analysis means that we can utilise the skills of the whole team no matter where their geographic location. Nevis continues to innovate and without doubt will continue to improve and refine this process. 

QGIS is a good package which can be used by anyone with a modern laptop or desktop computer, but it does require some training if you wish to create your own professional and accurate drawings.