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the GiGLer

The newsletter of Greenspace Information of Greater London CIC

Information super-highway

Matt Davies, GiGL’s Data Manager, on the mass-communication possibilities afforded by GiGL’s expanding data holdings.

In recent years GiGL has greatly increased its data holding, which now include over 3/4 million species and 75,000 habitat records, as well as comprehensive datasets on protected area and open space facilities. But what is it all for? Our partners’ data needs are as varied as the work that they do.They each require up-to-date information about London’s wildlife, but each partner places different demands on that data. Our ever improving data coverage, and the increased ruggedness and ‘interoperability’ of the data means our end users can integrate our data with their own systems and meet their own specific reporting needs.

In this issue of the GiGLer, Lauren outlines how we generate upwards of 600 reports annually for customers. Here, I’d like to introduce you to some of the ways we manipulate GiGL data to meet specific and often complex needs, and how we supply it to partner organisations and to the general public.

Quarterly data exchanges

Every quarter, GiGL supplies partners with updated information for their geographical area of interest, plus a 500 metre ‘buffer zone’. This buffer zone means that Wandsworth Borough Council, for example, can respond appropriately to planning applications that border the borough, while the Environment Agency can receive data that relates only to relevant species. It’s all about providing data that meets each organisation’s needs, and allows them to make evidence-based decisions.

As standard, the data is supplied in MapInfo. Alternatively, it can be provided in other GIS formats, as an Access database or Excel spreadsheet – formats that can easily be integrated with Ordnance Survey Mastermap and other national standard datasets, or into a partner’s own intranet mapping system. Staff at partner organisations can then create their own maps and undertake their own analysis.

The quarterly data exchanges are delivered to partners via a password protected area of our website and includes:

  • A point layer of all positive species records, a ‘point’ being the ‘X’ that marks the spot of each species record.
  • A point layer of all negative species records, where a species was looked for but not seen.
  • A point layer showing just those positive species records with a designated status of importance in the planning process.
  • A polygon layer showing Greater London Authority open space ‘parcels’, and the habitats found within those parcels. Polygon layers, as the name suggests, are ‘shapes’ that define the boundary of a survey area.
  • A polygon layer showing ‘areas of deficiency’, that are more than one kilometre’s walking distance from a Site of Borough or Metropolitan Importance.
  • Polygon layers of international, national, and regionally designated areas– both statutory and non-statutory. Habitat inventories, condition assessment and opportunity modelling Now that GiGL data can be so easily incorporate  into GIS, it can be manipulated to address more complex questions. Have you ever wondered which parks in London have bluebells, basketball hoops and are within 200 metres of a river? We can tell you!

In autumn 2007, we were called on to update the London section of Natural England’s national grassland inventory by identifying those sites that met the national standard for five specific types of grassland – lowland calcareous, lowland dry acid, purple moor-grass/rush pastures, lowland meadows and good-quality semi-improved grassland. Only sites that had been identified by the GLA habitat survey, and which contained the relevant number of Natural England’s ‘indicator species’ were ultimately included in the inventory. Similar work is now under way to establish processes for assessing the condition of biodiversity action plan habitats in London.

The woodland framework that we are developing for the ‘Capital Woodlands Project’, which raises awareness of London’s woodlands, goes one step further. It will not only use our data to assess woodland condition, but will also identify priority sites for woodland restoration and creation, taking into account a range of additional factors, from public access to noise pollution.

Annual Monitoring Reports Boroughs have a recent responsibility to report annually to the Department of Communities and Local Government on a number of topics, including biodiversity. The biodiversity section of these annual reports, catchily titled ‘Core Output Indicator 8’ or COI8, specifically require information on changes in the location and population of priority species and habitats, and changes in areas designated for their intrinsic environmental value. This includes sites of international, national, regional or sub-regional significance. A London standard for COI8 reporting is now in place – developed by GiGL in consultation with other record centres and the London Boroughs’ Biodiversity Forum. Some of the indices used establish baseline information about wildlife in a borough. Other indices indicate any change.

Again, GiGL’s role as a central information source is invaluable. Our COI8 reporting system not only interrogates our own datasets but other relevant geographical datasets that add value to our biodiversity information, allowing users to calculate any habitat loss or gain.The system has the potential to save boroughs a great deal of time and money and has been the primary incentive for three boroughs establishing service level agreements with GiGL.

What’s In My Back Yard (WIMBY)

GiGL’s website, launched in April 2007, has greatly facilitated our exchange of information with end users. Consultants use the website to submit requests for data searches and we can supply large datasets to our partners via a password-protected area. It has also allowed us to deliver data via a webmapping interface, ’What’s in My Backyard’ or WIMBY.

Funded by Defra,WIMBY uses a gazetteer-based search to enable users to find out about species recorded in London. It incorporates existing GiGL data with several London Natural History Society datasets and uses the NBN Gateway to bring that data straight to your desktop.WIMBY is designed to be easy to use, with simple instructions that lead the user through the process. First a user needs to specify a location; a four-figure grid reference, the first half of postcode, a named Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) or a named feature such as Buckingham Palace. This returns a list of possible sites, from which the user selects one.

Next the user is asked to choose which species they want to search for, or to choose from a list of groups, for example, terrestrial mammals.Behind the scenes, webservices query the NBN Gateway and return the results onscreen at one of two resolutions. GiGL partners can view results at full resolution, while public users can only view protected species at coarser resolution. The results are displayed over four tabs which allow the user to view thumbnail images of species and follow a hyperlink to other images on the ArKive website, and to view details of the records in tabular form or as an interactive map. Results can be viewed with a background ordnance survey map or on Google Maps overlaid on satellite images.They can also pan around the area to search for additional records in the locality. The same Defra project funded development of WIMBY-style webservices, allowing MapInfo users to query the NBN Gateway from their desktop software. Not only can the results be displayed in MapInfo, but they can also be saved directly to the user’s computer. Using an extra MapInfo toolbar, users can request information from the NBN Gateway in several ways:

• By drawing a polygon around their search area
• By buffering around a point – the user simply clicks a central point on the map and defines a radius to search.
• By a ‘known area’ search – using predefined polygons such as the boundaries of a designated site.

Having defined the search area, the user is then asked in which species or group they are interested.The query draws directly on the NBN Gateway and generates a polygon feature for each species record in the search area.

An ‘attribute table’ sits behind each record and contains fields including species name, unique ID, the name of the original dataset on NBN, together with information appended from a database by GiGL. GiGL chose to add a column indicating the protected status of the species – essential information for planners.

The future

Our data delivery capacity has come a long way in the last few years, and it will continue to grow.

To whet your appetite for additional products that might soon be available – we have recently been involved with a Natural England pilot project scheme, to create a system that automatically screens planning applications against GiGL data. We are also keen to explore further development of the web-portal to allow data downloads.

I hope that you are already thinking about how our existing services might be of use to you.The needs of all our partners are of great importance to us, so if you like the sound of either of these developments, or if there is something extra you think we could or should be doing, please let me know. I would be happy to discuss further.

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