Mapping for policy, recovery and resilience

Darwin Plus, sometimes referred to as the Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund, is open to any organisations that wish to embark on a project which will benefit one or more of the British Overseas Territories by protecting and enhancing their biodiversity or addressing wider environment or climate-related issues.

This project is the result of a joint bid by Environment Systems, The Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), National Parks Trust of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

The project will provide evidence to develop policy to aid post-hurricane environmental recovery and enhance future resilience to natural disasters. It will use satellite data to map and model the marine and terrestrial environment in the TCI and BVI, both before and after hurricanes Maria and Irma which caused so much devastation in 2017.

The project will share experience and learning to develop both island groups’ expertise in relevant techniques and be integrated closely with other UK Government supported projects in the BVI and TCI.

The Turks & Caicos – this low mainly flat limestone island group has extensive marshes and mangrove swamps and over 128 square miles of beach front
Ecosystem goods and services, derived from biodiversity, are crucial to the islands’ economies, supporting tourism, food provision and providing protection against the effects of extreme weather events. The natural environment is susceptible to damage from both human activities and natural disasters such as hurricane-generated storm surges and flooding. The importance of protecting these natural assets has been brought into sharp focus by the recent hurricane damage and the impact on the islands’ economies.

A major part of this project will focus on building resilience. This will be achieved by building the capacity of the island governments to use remote sensing outputs to undertake detailed mapping of terrestrial and marine environments themselves, both to evaluate hurricane impacts and highlight opportunities for habitat restoration. Three workshops will be held in the islands, with a further workshop programmed to take place in our head office. The project will run until early 2020.

Vulnerability Mapping in the British Overseas Territories

In 2016 Environment Systems carried out a modelling exercise to assess the vulnerability of five UK Overseas Territories (OTs) in the Caribbean to storm surge and flooding events, their impact on infrastructure and human life. The OTs included in this exercise were Anguilla, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Tristan da Cunha, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos.

Anguilla Storm Surge
This map shows the potential damage risk of storm surge on marine and terrestrial areas over Anguilla
This work has been brought into sharp focus by the extreme 2017 hurricane season (Maria and Irma). The new project on which we are now embarked uses pre and post hurricane satellite imagery to validate the model on Anguilla with a second phase of work applying that model to the BVI.

Part of the work consists of creating an inland flood risk model which is focused on the conditions and parameters of the ground surface. In addition, we have created a model that maps the extent of the storm surge. This storm surge risk model was generated and scored using Environment Systems’ own SENCE methodology. It takes into account prevailing conditions on the sea floor, the effect Natural Capital such as coral reefs, mangroves and forest can have on counteracting the energy in the waves. The validation was undertaken through expert interpretation of very high-resolution imagery together with data collected from news and social media accounts often accompanied by images of damage extents.

The high-level purpose of the work is to generate data for governance and policy but it goes far beyond that to practical measures such as ensuring that emergency vehicles are strategically parked and evacuation areas are suitably located and notified. In addition, the models help indicate areas for action for example for tree planting, future planning proposals and help in landscape design. The models also inform natural capital accounting by placing a monetary value on natural assets that stimulate tourism for example.

Filling in the Detail – Area Statements

A previous project we reported on was SoNaRR and the work which led to a ground-breaking report that set out the state of Wales’ natural resources. SoNaRR assesses the extent to which natural resources in Wales are being sustainably managed and recommends a proactive approach to building resilience. Based on the evidence in SoNaRR, Welsh Ministers set out their priorities for policy and since 2017 Environment Systems has been working on the next stage, developing the evidence for Area Statements to put these policies into action…or filling in the detail.

Timber Biomass Opportunities
The map above shows the areas of opportunity for planting timber for biomass.

In this work Wales is split into six areas with five different policy themes for each area –
Woodland Planting, Natural Flood Management (NFM), Enhancing Ecological Resilience, Urban and Peri-Urban Green Infrastructure, Coastal and Inland Water Quality.

Our work brings together data form a wide variety of data sets and delivers detailed maps, technical insight plus a user guide to enable planners and other professionals to make well-informed choices and deliver true sustainable management of natural resources.

The ‘opportunity maps” we are delivering can be used as evidence to support land management decisions in conjunction with other sources of evidence. For example the maps that have been produced for different policy themes can be considered together, to highlight localities where there are both conflicting and complementary policy goals.

Woodland Planting is a good example. The Welsh Government has set a target to increase woodland cover by 100,000 ha by 2030. Whilst more woodland planting is not always popular with the public there are many places where there is a double benefit for example in river catchments where planting can be introduced as part of natural flood management by increasing the water storage capacity of the soil and slowing the flow of water downstream.

Anguilla Data Gateway

Sometimes organisations have very useful data stored away in silos, that few can access. This wastes a valuable resource and makes sharing difficult.

Anguilla Data Gateway
The Anguilla Data Gateway enables Government personnel, external agencies and the public to browse by department, browse the whole catalog and then examine data attributes and then preview in a simple map viewer.

We have been working for the Government of Anguilla for over five years. As a consequence of Environment Systems’ and others’ work in recent years Anguilla now has a wealth of geospatial datasets held as part of government work or set up as part of the Anguilla National Ecosystem Service. Mapped data can be used as important tools for decision makers to better understand where a change in land use in one area might impact a much wider area, and when considering the impact of policy on the Island’s environment. The ability to view and scrutinise spatial data and maps enables developers to site their plans in the best place and to minimise environmental damage such as erosion or beach loss. Maps can also help the public understand more about their island.

Each dataset is accompanied by rich and standardised metadata to ensure a full understanding of the data attributes and appropriate use. A simple map viewer enables users to view the data prior to download.

The Anguilla Data Gateway enables data administrators to upload datasets, edit metadata and control access. It will provide Government personnel, external agencies and the public with a rich vein of data to help in the understanding of the archipelago’s complex and fragile ecosystems and aid in the decision-making process, vitally important in the wake of the damage inflicted in the 2017 hurricane season.

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.