Mapping it out: GIS and the INCASE Project

Updated: 3 days ago

Here, INCASE post-doc LISA COLEMAN explains how she uses map data from the Geographical Information System (GIS) to inform Ireland's groundbreaking Natural Capital Accounting project...

I’m the GIS and data analyst working on the INCASE project, a role I started in April. My main tasks are to gather, analyse and map data for the project. This data relates to the extent, condition, services and benefits of the various natural capital assets in the four INCASE project catchments.

What is GIS?

Geographical Information System - computer systems for managing, gathering and analysing geographical and spatial data. They use location information to organise data into layers and present an illustration of the input data.

Using GIS to detect changes for the INCASE Project

GIS means that a visualisation of the spatial relationship between natural systems and their interactions is generated, better helping us to understand and analyse the role of nature in our daily lives. GIS allows for the monitoring of change, easy identification of patterns and the identification of inter-related issues such as how land management in a catchment affects water quality. Detecting changes in natural systems is one of my main areas of focus for INCASE. An example of change detection can be seen when mapping the Corine Landcover Dataset in 2012 and 2018.

When comparing the outputs, variations in landcover classification are apparent. Firstly, the 2018 map shows a landcover classification of ‘Burnt Areas’ (shown in black) which was not present in the 2012 dataset. In 2012, this area was classified as ‘Moors and Heathlands’. This tells us that at some stage over the six-year period between data recording, a fire took place in the area.

On the 2012 map, there is a classification for ‘Mineral Extraction Sites’ which is no longer present in the 2018 data. Instead, the area is now classified as ‘Non-Irrigated Arable Land’ showing the extraction site was transformed to cropland. These changes tell us that there is a change in land-use, reflected in landcover, which we use as an indicator for the extent of natural capital assets. The extent of an asset directly relates to its condition, and therefore its potential to supply services and benefits, which in turn affects the outputs of the natural capital accounts. Such changes also show the importance of recording data and producing natural capital accounts on a regular basis.

Identifying pressures – illustrating spatial relations

GIS also helps in the assessment of inter-related issues, an example of which is the analysis of pressures influencing river waterbodies. From work carried out by the EPA Catchments Unit, forestry was identified as a significant pressure to the Glencullen_010 River, which is part of the Dargle sub-catchment

When the forestry and woodland data from Corine 2018 was layered up with the Glencullen_010 river, it became obvious that forestry parcels are located along the river route.

This is important to note as many water quality issues can arise from forestry pressures. These include the release of sediment and nutrients into the river and a modified stream flow caused by land drainage. Detecting and locating such concerns is central to the INCASE project as it highlights the causes of degradation of natural systems and where we have already recorded poor condition (less than good ecological status under Water Framework Directive reporting).

What am I working on now?

Much of my work at the moment is mapping the extent and condition of each of the natural systems in the Dargle Subcatchment. I have just finished mapping the data for freshwater systems which included risk status and pressures. (See pic below)

Currently, I’m working on gathering and assessing the data for woodland and forestry extent and condition. I’ve been in contact with Coillte and the National Forestry Inventory in order to obtain data from them. As well as that, National Parks and Wildlife Service have data relating to native woodlands which is important for the project. Once all the data is gathered, attributes common to the datasets will be examined. These include forestry type, species and age. Data that gives an indication of tree health, harvesting, biodiversity and carbon stocks will also be analysed.

As well as this, I’m working with a spatial modelling tool called EnSym to develop the extent accounts for the various natural systems. I recently received training on how to build these accounts from Mark Eigenraam of the IDEEA Group. The output of EnSym is an excel spreadsheet that details the area of each input and any changes recognised – this is essentially the extent account which forms the basis for the condition, services and benefits accounts.

The next step

I am in the process of gathering data to inform extent and condition accounts over the course of the summer. Once that is completed, we can develop a series of extent and condition accounts for each catchment using EnSym. We will stay focused on the Dargle for now, and follow on with services and benefits (linked with WP3).


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