CPRE GIS Project: Severn Vale Study Tour

The Severn Vale below Gloucester is a complex area of land and water that is coming under increasing pressure from development. However, compared with the neighbouring Cotswolds and the Forest of Dean, our understanding of the Lower Severn Vale is comparatively poor. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is funding a programme of student research to help plug this gap in understanding. As part of this project, GOGL internship students are helping to build a geographical information system (GIS) for the Severn Vale, using open software and data, which it is hoped will be an important tool for helping to inform future decision-making in the area.

Recently, I led a group of people with an interest in the project (including staff and students from the CCRI and the School of Geography, and senior representatives from CPRE Gloucestershire) on a study tour of the Severn Vale. Our aim was to gain a deeper understanding of the physical, social and cultural geography of the area, to appraise current development pressures and proposals, and to stimulate discussion around project planning and future data requirements.

Our itinerary took us first to Coaley Peak Viewpoint, on the Cotswold Scarp, a few miles to the north east of Dursley in Gloucestershire, where the clear (and very cold) conditions afforded us superb views. The excellent visibility meant that almost the entire lower Vale area could be seen from this vantage point, allowing us to appreciate and discuss the setting and  landscape of the Severn Vale.

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Looking across the Severn Vale from Coaley Peak Viewpoint, Gloucestershire.

Our next stop was Slimbridge Wetland Centre, where we were met and hosted by Esther Collis, the ‘Severn Vision’ Project Manager at Slimbridge WWT. Here, we scaled the steps of the Sloane Observation Tower and continued our discussions about the geography of the Severn Vale, and the pressures from planning in the area, with the help of the spectacular panoramic views available from the top of the tower. The group then moved outside and toured several of the viewing hides that look out onto the Slimbridge Reserve, from where we were able to appreciate close-up views of the the wildlife and the Severn Estuary.

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View from the Sloane Observation Tower, Slimbridge WWT

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David Brooke, Vice-Chairman of CPRE Gloucestershire tells the group about the special qualities of the Severn Vale landscape, and the pressures it is facing from development


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Up close with the Severn Estuary at Slimbridge WWT (note elevated ridge in foreground is the sea wall, and marks the extent of high water level)

Following lunch at Slimbridge, our next port of call (quite literally) was Sharpness on the River Severn, where we were met by Mike Johnson of the Gloucester Harbour Trustees, who guided us on a tour of the dockside and told us about the operation of what is still a commercially-active port. Having gained a fascinating insight the maritime and commercial importance of the Severn Estuary, we walked to the harbour entrance and took in a view of the entire lower estuary as far as the old Severn Bridge, and beyond.

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Talking shipping and all things River Severn at the Harbour Offices, Sharpness.

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Gloucester Harbour Trustees are responsible for monitoring vessel movements along the estuary/river using radar.


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Looking down the Severn Estuary from the entrance to Sharpness Port.

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Severn Estuary from Sharpness

The final stop for our minibus before returning home was the village of Berkeley, a few minutes down the road from Sharpness, where we stopped briefly to discuss the pressures of building development in the area at a site earmarked for the construction of housing. An interesting and worthwhile trip, and one which has been extremely valuable for informing the future direction of the GIS project. Plenty more to see in this interesting, and in it’s own way, beautiful area – a summer trip beckons!








A Presentation on Qualitative GIS

First post of the year – been busy!


Yesterday I gave a presentation on Qualitative GIS (QualGIS) to colleagues at the CCRI  as part of the CCRI’s excellent Seminar Series. In it I talked about the recent development of QualGIS as a response to critiques of ‘traditional’ GIS that cast it as a purely positivist, quantitative tool, and how Qual GIS should be thought of as a mixed-methods approach, rather then a strictly ‘qualitative GIS’.  I picked on three very different studies from the QGIS research literature in order to illustrate the diversity of work in the field: 1) Mei-Po Kwan’s (2008) study on the use of 3D GIS to re-present post 9/11 experiences of Muslim women in the USA; 2) Chris McDowall’s innovative work on adapting open source technologies for mapping interview audio; and 3) the work currently being done at Lancaster University into establishing a ‘literary GIS‘ of the Lake District. I concluded by emphasising the exploratory nature of QualGIS and highlighted the need for further development on conceptual, imaginative and technical levels.

The presentation slides have been uploaded to the CCRI area on SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/CCRI/qualitative-gis-by-rob-berry-ruralgis

‘Chunking’ a raster in ArcGIS

Gridding_Rasters_WebOnce in a while you deal with a large raster dataset that needs splitting into smaller chunks/tiles for easier manageability. If you are an ArcGIS user, there does not appear to be an obvious tool for this, and although this can doubtless be done with some Python code, its task that you feel is worth of a proper tool. Well, I found one on the net – its an ArcToolbox .tbx written and made freely available by the USGS. Very easy to use and works perfectly. See – http://www.umesc.usgs.gov/management/dss/raster_split_tool.html

ICA-OSGeo Lab at the University of Gloucestershire

Plans are underway to establish an ICA-OSGeo Lab at the University of Gloucestershire.

OSGeo logo

In September 2011, the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) and the International Cartographic Association (ICA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim of developing on a global basis collaboration opportunities for academia, industry and government organizations in open source GIS software and data. The MoU aims to provide expertise and support for the establishment of Open Source Geospatial Laboratories and Research centres across the world for supporting development of open-source geospatial software technologies, training and expertise.

More soon on this exciting initiative.

UK Land Cover Map data now available via Digimap

The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology‘s land cover map data for the UK is now being made available (to subscribing UK academic institutions) through Digimap’s new Environment data download service.

These digital raster datasets, derived from satellite data collected by the Landsat 5 Thematic Mapper, provide classification of land cover types at a 25m resolution for the years of 1990, 2000 and 2007. Classifications include sea and inland waters, bare, suburban and urban areas, arable farmland, pastures and meadows, rough grass, grass heaths and moors, bracken, dwarf shrub heaths and moorland, scrub, deciduous and evergreen woodland and upland and lowland bogs.

The CEH Land Cover Maps can be used to plan, manage or monitor agriculture, ecology, conservation, forestry, environmental assessment, water supplies, urban spread, transport, telecommunications, recreation and mineral extraction. Current examples of the application of the Land Cover Map include detection of changing land cover, landscape management, mapping bracken in the context of health studies (bracken supports ticks carrying human disease), environmental assessments of motorway extensions, and planning of telecommunication lines.

Summary details of all the datasets can be found here.

The University of Gloucestershire has recently acquired a license for the premium Land Cover Map 2007 Vector data (unavailable via Digimap) which will be used in research and education across the University.

“Big” Data? Use PostGIS

I’m working with a fairly large GIS data file – 4GB and 8,500,000 land cover polygons covering Great Britain. This came in ESRI shapefile format, but even using a PC with a decent bit of clout, it just won’t load properly in ArcGIS, or QGIS. Not unexpected. The solution is to import the data into an open source PostGIS database. Both ArcGIS and QGIS can connect to a data held in a PostGIS database, and its the only way to go when you’re handling unwieldy amounts of geographic data. PostGIS is a supremely powerful database for storing and querying spatial data, and it’s a tool that every GISer should have in their armoury. Free too! Beginners guide here: http://workshops.boundlessgeo.com/postgis-intro/