GIS and Land-Use Planning for Improved Design Making
Consuming almost half of all non-renewable resources that have been used, the construction industry is considered the least sustainable industry globally. The amount of energy and materials that are needed to sustain the construction industry has contributed to severe impacts to the natural environment including loss of species, and a reduction in habitats that can no longer support both organisms and ecosystems.
The allocation of new space for growing infrastructure is significantly problematic for land use; for example, motorways may consume 10has of land per kilometre of road, local roads take up less space than this, but as they make up a higher percentage of the road network the collective affect is higher. There is a growing body of evidence that infrastructure is major factor of biodiversity loss at both the local level and landscape level.
Land-use planning using GIS has been used within research to identify landscape changes over time using developed indicators and indices to monitor environments and improve sustainability. This study of spatial patterns, Landscape Ecology, is considered conservation from a different perspective; the study of spatial patterns gives the standpoint that habitats are part of a larger mosaic that affects ecological processes. Biologists are embracing fragmentation and connectivity concepts, increasing the overlap between biology and landscape ecology in conservation, with GIS as the primary technology in this field.
The optimal time to consider biodiversity and integrate GIS is in the design phase of an infrastructure project. This phase is particularly crucial for adding concepts that reduce impacts to the environment such as habitat loss, pollution, and waste production. It is also in this phase that the cost of changes is the lowest, making it the best phase for realising aspirations, influencing costs, and adding value in the context of project improvement. Great reductions in operations’ sustainable impacts could be made if sustainability is considered early in planning and design. For example, we can use open-source data to locate statutory conservation constraints such as national parks or a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), local planning authorities, and identifying land-use and land-cover types. We can use these land-cover types to identify the characteristics of, and risk to, each habitat. Users can be shown biodiversity unit metric factors including: the distinctiveness, the difficulty of restoration, and the time to maturity. This helps us identify the habitats that may be considered a 'risk' moving forward and gives us a better understanding of the time and cost associated with offsetting the impact of any work. Incorporating these metrics gives a unit amount that needs to be compensated. Biodiversity units in the UK, developed by Defra, are currently used to calculate biodiversity losses and gains.
GIS integration in this manner saves time for ecologist, environmental managers, and GIS technicians. With just a few clicks of a button and a few minutes of processing, official biodiversity unit calculations can be determined and reported accurately. Scenarios can be tested based on requirements for biodiversity compensation and condition, thus identifying areas of opportunity for restoration, or high biodiversity unit value areas to conserve. This means we can efficiently optimise biodiversity gains and reduce losses.
Actions to mitigate impact and enhance the biodiversity can be more easily costed and planned into the delivery programme. Even if there are iterations of the design, having all the above data at your fingertips makes for rapid decision making as well as cost effective and environmentally beneficial choices. Early investment in data capture and GIS not only provides greater delivery and cost certainty, but it also provides a brighter future for our planet.
Katie Dawson is a GIS Analyst and researcher affiliated with Costain for seven years, undertaking award-winning doctoral GIS research to promote environmental sustainability in the large infrastructure industry. Her technical expertise includes the proficient use desktop and online GIS platforms, spatial data management, spatial analysis and visualisation.
Laura is techUK’s Programme Manager for Technology and Innovation.
She supports the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.
Before joining techUK, Laura worked internationally in London, Singapore and across the United States as a conference researcher and producer covering enterprise adoption of emerging technologies. This included being part of the strategic team at London Tech Week.
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