Mapping Resilient Ecological Networks for Green Infrastructure Policy

Green Infrastructure (GI) is a strategically planned and delivered network of semi-natural habitats and green spaces which deliver multiple benefits through ecological functions and processes. These are important for wildlife, habitats and mitigating the effects of climate change. GI is also important for the communities it serves with impacts upon health and wellbeing, economic growth, investment, land regeneration and sustainability. Its design and management should also respect and enhance the character and distinctiveness of an area with regard to habitats and landscape types.

Environment Systems was commissioned to use the ‘Norfolk Living Map’ to undertake a county wide ecological connectivity analysis to support future GI policy preparation and habitat restoration efforts. The project also included the modelling and mapping of opportunities for implementing Natural Flood Management (NFM) interventions. The project partners were Norfolk County Council, Norfolk Wildlife Trust, the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, Great Yarmouth Borough Council, North Norfolk District Council, the Broads Authority, South Holland District Council, Breckland Council, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

Areas of native habitat that are joined together in a landscape are more resilient to changing climate or management

A Habitat Asset Register (HAR) was created from the existing ‘Norfolk Living Map’ by categorising habitats into relevant ecosystem groups of woodland, grassland & heath and wetland. Within these groups we then calculated the extent of each habitat, and, using our SENCE Ecosystem Reference Database, attributed each habitat based on its ability to slow overland flow (e.g. by intercepting rainfall in the canopy, evapotranspiration and soil infiltration).

Using our SENCE Basic methodology we mapped each resilient ecological network based on core habitat assets (patches) that provide source populations and smaller habitat assets, which provide functional connectivity for each network. The resulting maps were reviewed and analysed by the stakeholder group. Feedback was used to help create a rule-based approach for locating opportunity spaces for GI via the planning system and enhancements via approaches such as the Living Landscape Community Project.
The Natural Flood Management Map map was created using the SENCE tool by using the HAR in combination terrain with soils, geology and land-use management data to identify the best places to slow water flow.

Ecosystem Assessment – Montserrat

In November we visited the island of Montserrat. Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory in the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles island chain. The Island’s capital, Plymouth, was devastated and abandoned after the eruption, in 1995, of the Soufrière Hills volcano.

Preliminary fieldwork on the island with the gases from the Soufrière Hills volcano clearly visible on the horizon

Environment Systems has been commissioned by JNCC to carry out a National Ecosystem Assessment of Montserrat using its Earth Observation based mapping and Caribbean ecosystem expertise. Montserrat’s ecosystems provide an important source of income through the exploitation of its unique biodiversity to promote tourism as well as supporting the livelihoods of Montserrat’s population. Ecosystems provide multiple benefits such as the provision of fresh water, maintaining soil fertility and a variety of food resources.

During our 9 day visit to the island we participated in a workshop to scope the project and introduce the use of Earth observation and GIS to interested parties, including those from the Montserrat Government and Montserrat National Trust, who will provide all Montserrat-based field work and support.

Our ongoing work will focus on a number of tasks:

  • The generation of a complete terrestrial [GB1] habitat map for Montserrat. The preliminary fieldwork for this was carried out during our November visit.
  • Undertake a comparison of outputs of existing and in development habitat maps, spatial metrics and other supporting environmental data and produce a draft list of the most suitable datasets that are required for the project.
  • Produce a set of Earth Observation based spatial metrics for ecosystem priorities and natural capital accounting.
  • Provide recommendations for a future monitoring and reporting system based on Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2

Work is due for completion by the end of March 2018.

Ystradffin Hydropower Project

Hydro Electric Development Ltd (HED Ltd) has won planning permission for a new hydropower development on the Afon Twyi in Carmarthenshire. By harnessing the power of the Afon Twyi approximately 1.6 km downstream of the Llyn Brianne Reservoir and dam, the project has the potential to produce 1.8 MW (9000 MWh a year) electricity. The electricity generated will be fed into the local National Grid network and will provide clean renewable energy to the mid-Wales region.

Harnessing the power of the Afon Twyi has the potential to produce 9000MWh of clean renewable energy each year

A study was undertaken to identify key issues associated with the proposed scheme to define the scope of the Environmental Statement (ES) and the parameters that would require further investigation as part of the planning process. Environment Systems’ Ecology Services team provided the baseline ecological survey including Extended Phase 1 Habitat Survey, National vegetation Classification (NVC), Lower plants survey, breeding bird surveys, otter and water vole surveys, badger survey, and bat surveys. The team also undertook the Ecological Impact Assessment (EcIA) and prepared the Nature Conservation chapter of the Environmental Statement to support the wider Environmental Impact Assessment.

The construction phase of the project is expected to start in 2018.

Data Services API

Our Data Services are supported by an OpenAPI. An API enables two or more software applications to communicate with each other.

All the functionality available through our Data Services web portal, can also be achieved programmatically through the use of this API, including defining regions, searching our holdings and requesting products. The use of OpenAPI standards facilitates access by allowing, for example, the automated production of ‘stub’ connectors, for rapid deployment of software that can connect to and utilise our services.

Our API is compliant with the Swagger/YAML standard. You can access our Swagger/JAML open API description here.

If you want to speak to someone about our Data Services API please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Modelling exposure to show environmental stress

The spectacular map shown below indicates the risk of frost pocket formation in Wales. Modelling exposure to show environmental stress for Wales was part of the wider SaFAS (Spatial Analysis for Area Statements) project for Natural Resources Wales, which set a framework for modelling ecosystem services for area statements. The project identified high exposure areas as a factor determining types of natural management interventions that could be implemented at different sites with particular reference to crop suitability.

The map shows areas with low risk of frost pocket formation in yellow and green and areas of medium to high risk in blue

Terrestrial ecology is affected by the location of frost pockets with plants that are susceptible to frost in the spring not growing well in locations that will experience frost later on in the year. This will also affect the type of agricultural crops that can be grown in an area, an effect that is stronger the more frost sensitive the crop in question is.

The map was created using a number of factors that either increase or decrease an area’s likelihood of frost. The factors include wind, solar radiation, proximity to the coast (less temperature fluctuation and associated salt spray), concavities, elevation, soil type and vegetation type.

Ecosystem service mapping study for water safeguard zones in north Somerset

Environment Systems was commissioned by Bristol Water to undertake a prioritised ecosystem service mapping study for water safeguard zones in north Somerset. The project set out to investigate issues around water quality and supporting biodiversity. The work focused on Cheddar Reservoir, Chew Magna Reservoir and Blagdon Lake. These water bodies and their surrounds are designated Drinking Water Protected Areas, which are also Safeguard Zones due to concerns about surface and groundwater. Over recent years significant algal blooms, occasioned by increased nutrient concentrations have become an increasing pressure on the water resource. Safeguard Zones promote voluntary adoption of measures that will prevent further deterioration in water quality through an active and collaborative catchment management approach led by Bristol Water and involving the Wildlife Trusts and Natural England.

Blagdon Lake, a reservoir in north Somerset where blue-green algal blooms have increased since 2006

Using our SENCE (Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation) toolkit for mapping and modelling ecosystem services we produced a series of maps which identify where opportunities occur to undertake land interventions that are likely to improve the water quality of the receiving reservoirs as well as slow the flow of runoff. SENCE uses a rule-based approach to map and combine individual environmental variables of the ecosystem service in question. This builds a representation of the whole or part of a complex ecosystem interaction. The rule base is built around a series of key factors such as habitat, soil and geology, location and current management.

We also mapped the eco-connectivity of the semi-natural habitats in the area, to show where establishing habitats might have the greatest effect in terms of enhancing biodiversity resilience. There were three main outputs, a technical report to explain the methodology of the ecosystem approach and map production, a series of ecosystem service and opportunity maps and an advisory guide. The advisory guide is intended for use with the opportunity maps to help those involved in land management improve water quality in drinking water reservoirs, reduce the risk of downstream flooding, enhance biodiversity and improve land and wetland management practices.

You can download the case study here.

Ireland’s National Ecosystem and Ecosystem Services Pilot

This project commissioned by the National Parks and Wildlife Service set out to establish a framework for a National Ecosystem Assessment for Ireland. By assessing and valuing the known benefits of ecosystem services it is possible to demonstrate how Ireland’s biodiversity affects the economy, society and future development opportunities. It also demonstrates that conserving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems gives multiple benefits to society.

On this project Environment Systems used its SENCE (Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation) tool because it can accept a wide range of data sources at different scales and deliver outputs for a variety of ecosystem services. A ‘Habitat Asset Register’ and 8 Ecosystem Services maps were created from over 300 spatial datasets with inputs from a number of different stakeholders. These included organisations likely to be involved in implementing projects to restore ecosystems in Ireland, people with existing knowledge of environmental and societal issues and policy, and technical experts with knowledge of relevant data and projects. All the outputs from the project are available for download from the National Parks and Wildlife website.

A web based ‘Story Map’ provides an explanation of supporting ecosystem service information. Each ecosystem service map can be viewed along side an explanation of what the service is how it was produced and how it can be interpreted and used. The Story Map can be viewed here.

The full report on the research has been published and can be downloaded here.