At Baker Consultants, we have long understood the value of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to our profession, and in particular the capacity of multi-platform open-source software, such as QGIS, to facilitate our work. Several of our consultants are very experienced, capable GIS analysts but, as you’d expect with ecologists of different specialisations and backgrounds, our levels of GIS experience vary.
To refresh some of our ecologists’ existing knowledge and bring others up to speed, our marine and terrestrial ecologists recently took an intensive two-day QGIS training course led by expert tutor Dr Mark O’Connell of ERT Conservation. The in-house workshop (held at the Derbyshire Eco Centre) was designed to rapidly get everyone to a ‘competent user’ level, from which we can go on to build our own wider skills base.
After initial introductions, Mark reminded us of a few of the basics of GIS, such as its conception in Canada in the 1960s, its vast range of uses, and the variety and importance of different Co-ordinate Reference Systems. Then came the technical bit! We were taken on a tour of geodatabases and shapefiles, vector and raster layers, and lines, points and polygons. Mark then demonstrated some of the useful QGIS functions for ecologists and conservation practitioners, such as digitising, terrain analysis, manipulating layers and editing data, as well as a selection of the many ‘plug-ins’ available for this software. Finally, we took a detailed look at the array of useful features within the geoprocessing, research and analysis toolkits. Despite Day 1 moving at a pretty quick pace, everyone kept up.
The general approach of Day 2 was to consolidate work from the previous day, and introduce the use of statistical analyses within GIS, for instance in order to test for relationships and differences in datasets. Mark outlined a number of potentially very useful functions for us professional ecologists, such as the ability to test for statistically significant habitat preferences of different fauna, as well as proximity analysis.
In summary, it’s fair to say that the course was challenging, but enjoyable. More importantly, we all appreciated the significant capacity of QGIS to support our work and are all now fully able to put into practice what we learnt.
Matt Cook, Senior Ecologist