Countryside Survey goes digital
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Countryside Survey goes digital

July 19, 2007 -- This year’s Countryside Survey will provide the most complete picture yet of change to the UK’s natural environment, thanks to a new Geographic Information System (GIS) from ESRI (UK) which, for the first time, enables digital field mapping of landscape change.

ESRI (UK), the market leader in enterprise GIS solutions, is the lead technology supplier for the Countryside Survey, which is an environmental audit of the UK countryside, measuring stock and change in habitats and landscape features. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) has carried out this audit every six to eight years since the late 1970s to support understanding and management of change in the countryside.

A field-based GIS data capture system customised by ESRI (UK) will be used by CEH field survey teams across the country to map changes and locate fixed vegetation plot using real-time GPS. The resulting geodatabase will integrate with software from SAS, the market leader in the new generation of business intelligence software and services, allowing detailed statistical analyses to be carried out producing a national picture of how the countryside has changed over the past 30 years. The results of the survey will be published in autumn 2008.

ESRI’s GIS will improve the quality of data captured by reducing the time and effort required to clean the information for analysis and by preserving and enforcing data quality rules at the point of capture in the field.

John Watkins, Head of Section, Environmental Informatics Programme, CEH, said: “We believe this year’s Countryside Survey will provide the most accurate picture yet of our changing landscape thanks to the improvements in data collection and analysis that ESRI (UK) has enabled. This year’s survey will have better quality control and be reported more quickly than any previous survey.”

In past surveys, the CEH used paper maps and recording sheets to capture landscape features and their attributes. A team of ten digitisers took two years to mark-up the data digitally for analysis. This was a slow process,more prone to error due to the amount of manual transformations and edits required to link the data together.

The new GIS is based on ESRI (UK)’s ArcGIS geodatabase and integrated with ArcGIS 9.2 desktop software on ruggedised laptop computers for use in the field. ESRI (UK) has also included a customised application of its software specific to the Countryside Survey to ensure quality of data. The information from the laptop is then downloaded to the central GIS database at CEH. This is linked to CEH’s statistical analyses via SAS software to produce a representative picture of the whole country.

Richard Waite, Managing Director, ESRI (UK), said: “The value of CEH’s work cannot be understated and we are delighted that our technology is a critical part of the Countryside Survey. From our beginning, ESRI (UK) has been committed to environmental concerns and demonstrating how geographic information impacts every part of our lives and our external environment. Working with organisations like CEH realises the vision we have for the importance of geographic information technology now and for our future.”

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