Philippa Burrell, Director Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre, explains how third generation data are already changing the way people work in the region.
A simple ‘data in, data out’ service had been available in Oxfordshire and Berkshire before the Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre came into being. A number of key people in the region – county ecologists, Natural England, Wildlife Trust staff and others – could see the potential for even more helpful data products and were willing to pay for them.
When TVERC was set up in 2003, we were approached by a number of people clutching wish-lists in one hand and cheques in the other.
Third generation data products are now changing the way that people work in the Thames Valley and making a real contribution to biodiversity improvement. The effect is spreading, particularly in relation to biodiversity opportunity maps, which are seen as a key tool for local authorities, conservation bodies and government agencies.
The impetus to produce opportunity maps for Berkshire and Oxfordshire was provided by Planning Policy Statement 9 (PPS9), by climate change and current nature conservation theory, all of which point us towards more landscape-scale spatial planning for biodiversity; repairing fragmentation and avoiding isolation of habitats and species.
‘Opportunity maps’ draw a line around areas where habitat protection and restoration can give the best return for the resources used.They represent the current ‘hot spot areas’ for biodiversity and help to focus effort instead of applying a scatter gun approach.
Our experiences in the Thames Region have demonstrated that a consultative approach to mapping opportunity areas is beneficial to the final outcomes – both in terms of the quality of the map and the use that people make of it in their work. The consultation has prompted closer working relationships between partners – to the benefit of biodiversity.
We’re not alone in thinking opportunity maps can change the way you work for the better. A number of bodies in the South East have commissioned a regional map to guide spatial planning and conservation work on a landscape scale.
TVERC is acting as the lead records centre for this contract. Record centres and others across the region are busy carrying out mapping and consultation work this autumn, using digital maps of local geology, species of interest, habitats, local conservation activity, designated sites and other data to identify areas of opportunity. County and town maps are being produced.The urban maps are on a more intimate scale but the principle and the effect are the same – better focus on the areas that matter the most.
The local consultation is causing quite a buzz, encouraging potentially conflicting interests to come together and work out the most appropriate locations for habitat creation and strengthening partnership working.
Model street trees
While GiGL and LBP are working hard to make opportunity mapping a reality for London’s biodiversity sector, another highprofile project has already benefited from the same techniques. The Mayor’s ‘Green Manifesto: Protecting Our Local Environment’ included a pledge to invest in 10,000 street trees to improve the local neighbourhoods that need them most.
GiGL was commissioned by the CapitalWoodlands Project to assist by identifying areas lacking in street trees.This was the crucial starting point for the work to target planting in 40 areas across London. GiGL produced opportunity maps by querying several different datasets to decide the most appropriate places for the trees to be planted.
Sourcing data to underpin the target areas required the help of the London Boroughs Biodiversity Forum and the London Tree Officers Association.To create a comprehensive view of street trees we needed access to street tree data from both Transport for London and the boroughs. Data came in very quickly from some contacts, and we were able to use data from TfL and 16 boroughs to undertake phase 1 of the project; to assess and standardise the datasets.
Data varied in coverage, map projection and format. So, we began by converting all data to MapInfo GIS files with ‘British National Grid’ projection – making it sit happily alongside the other datasets including those of the Ordnance Survey. Having made this conversion, we were able to use the Ordnance Survey’s information on the position of London’s pavements to separate street trees from trees in parks, gardens and other areas.This query was so huge, it took a weekend to run and resulted in a combined total of over 300,000 records.
Information on existing street tree coverage was only part of the picture.We also needed to consider a range of environmental and social factors.We used lower super output areas (LSOA), the same local geographic hierarchy used by the Office of National Statistics to report on deprivation, to assess each area’s need for street trees. Each LSOA represents a geographic area with a mean population of 1,500 people. Each was assessed using the following criteria:
- Street tree density:The number of street trees per kilometre of road within the LSOA.
- Multiple deprivation:The worst-performing 20% of LSOAs measured by the Government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation 2007 data.
- Heat island effect: Night-time surface temperatures on 7th August 2003 (during a major heat wave).
- Air quality: Mean particulate matter across each LSOA.
- Noise: Any LSOA which intersects with a main road
- Deficiency in access to nature: Any LSOA intersecting with an Area of Deficiency in Access to Nature.
Each factor was then given a score according to the potential positive effects of planting more street trees in an area. After running the model, we produced A1 maps of each borough showing the top 25% of the LSOAs that the model identified as most likely to benefit from targeted tree planting.
These maps were then taken to an expert panel, made up of CapitalWoodland Project partners, who used them to finalise lower super output areas or clusters of LSOAs where tree planting would occur.These final maps were sent out to the boroughs by the Greater London Authority to be ratified.
Phase 2 of this project, involving the remaining boroughs is due to start soon.