05 Mar 2021

Saving Nature One Map at a Time – The role of Geospatial Data in conservation projects around the world

Harriet Gwilt, Customer Success Manager, Esri UK explores the role of Geospatial Data in tackling climate change and threats to our natural world. Part of techUK's #GeospatialFuture campaign

How do we go about tackling climate change and threats to our natural world? Here at Esri UK we believe that these are geospatial problems at heart and can be looked at through the lens of geographical information systems (GIS). Through the power of maps, we can better visualise world biodiversity, prioritise vulnerable areas, and ultimately implement positive change where it is needed most.

A real game changer in biodiversity conservation and addressing climate change has been the rise of open and authoritative spatial datasets. Bringing together disparate datasets such as UNEP-WCMC’s ‘World Database of Protected Areas’ or Birdlife International’s ‘Key Biodiversity Areas’, enables a comprehensive view of the planet, easily visualised on a map. It’s then easy to identify key biodiversity areas, where the protected areas overlap and where the gaps are. Key to the drive for better data is the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) initiative. The Open SDG Data Hub from the United Nations Statistics Division illustrates the use of spatial data to measure progress tackling climate change and improving conservation.

But what about the collection of new environmental data? This is essential to maintaining an accurate pulse on the planet. Data is being collected in increasingly innovative ways, including with drones, location-aware mobile applications and aerial and satellite imagery capture. Combining these allows creation of a rich digital twin of a conservation area. Scientists or researchers typically carry out regular data collection, but interestingly the public are increasingly also engaged. RSPB for example engages volunteers, study groups and county bird clubs in their National Willow Tit Survey, the results from which are analysed with GIS to monitor the sadly declining population.

Analysis of geographic data in a GIS helps identify patterns, trends, and relationships. For example, what habitat types exist on a conservation reserve, and how they change over time. Scientists use time-enabled data to consider historical patterns and predict where future interventions are necessary, for example to stop habitat regression or identify an invasive species. In climate change modelling, 3D GIS maps of historical floods can help predict future flood risk.

The rise of public web maps and applications enable findings to be shared more easily. In a visual format, data is consumed more easily, and stories are told to fellow conservation enthusiasts, students, politicians or the public. RSPB have a Gallery of StoryMaps which serves as an online library available to all. The publication of open spatial data encourages further mapping of conservation and climate change initiatives and allows us to monitor impact. In turn this informs the execution of further conservation plans to promote better protection for our biodiverse environment.

Drones, AI and innovation: UK and international conservation projects using Geospatial Data 

The non-profit conservation community in the UK is leveraging Geospatial Data in innovative projects, for example the RSPB has used camera traps and AI to identify species in remote rainforests, uses drones to study change across heather moorlands and utilises terrain modelling to plan the restoration of peatland.  

British conservation charity, Plantlife works nationally in the UK and internationally to save threatened wildflowers, plants, and fungi, including identifying areas of focus for emergency conservation management in the temperate rainforest habitats in the UK, along our Atlantic coastline. 

The Scottish Wildlife trust uses Geospatial Data and technology for a range of applications from mapping red squirrel populations to conducting tree safety inspections. 

Fauna and Flora international are mapping and analysing wildlife corridors for conservation management in Liberia and Guinea as part of the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Programme.  The analysis models wildlife connectivity and informs recommendations for conservation action

To find out more, visit esriuk.com/conservation

You can read more insights from techUK's #GeospatialFuture campaign here!

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

Programme Manager, Technology and Innovation, techUK

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.

Laura has a degree in History (BA Hons) from Durham University, focussing on regional social history. Outside of work she loves reading, travelling and supporting rugby team St. Helens, where she is from.

[email protected]

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Zoe Brockbank

Programme Coordinator, Policy, Tech and Innovation, techUK

Zoe is a Programme Assistant, supporting techUK's work across Policy, Technology and Innovation.

The team makes the tech case to government and policymakers in Westminster, Whitehall, Brussels and across the UK on the most pressing issues affecting this sector and supports the Technology and Innovation team in the application and expansion of emerging technologies across business, including Geospatial Data, Quantum Computing, AR/VR/XR and Edge technologies.

Before joining techUK, Zoe worked as a Business Development and Membership Coordinator at London First and prior to that Zoe worked in Partnerships at a number of Forex and CFD brokerage firms including Think Markets, ETX Capital and Central Markets.

Zoe has a degree (BA Hons) from the University of Westminster and in her spare time, Zoe enjoys travelling, painting, keeping fit and socialising with friends.

[email protected]
020 7331 2174

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