Wednesday, November 19, 2008

GIS software saves a lot on Countryside Survey

The UK government has saved £700,000 by using geographic information software on mobile computers to produce the most detailed Countryside Survey to date.

The fifth survey since 1978 was commissioned by environmental affairs department (Defra) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Alan Thorpe, chief executive of NERC, said the survey provides vital scientific evidence for policymakers and stakeholders in sustainable land management.

The savings were achieved by halving the time taken to capture the data for the latest Countryside Survey report for England, Scotland and Wales published in London today.

Surveyors from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) used GPS equipment in the field to capture location data and entered it directly into the geographic information system (GIS) from ESRI (UK).

John Watkins, section head at the CEH, said this meant data was available within the central database on the same day as the survey was carried out.

"We believe this year's Countryside Survey provides the most accurate picture yet of our changing landscape thanks to the improvements in data collection and analysis," he said.

The software also reduced the time needed to prepare the data for analysis by enforcing data quality rules at the point of capture in the field.

In past surveys, the CEH used paper maps and recording sheets to capture landscape features and their attributes. A team of ten digitisers then took two years to prepare the data for analysis.

The process was slow and prone to error due to the number of manual transformations and edits required to link the data together, said Watkins.

The Countryside Survey shows how the main features of the countryside have changed, how numbers of plant species have responded to changing land use, how habitat quality and vegetation condition has altered for key habitats, and how soils are recovering from acid pollutants.



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