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GIS in the New Forest

Mark Alonzo

A couple of weekends ago, just before the warmth of summer finally disappeared, the family and I decided to head down to the New Forest, which I believe is the largest tract of unclosed heathland and forest in the heavily populated south-east of England.

Like so many of us today in this technologically driven world, I entered the location I was heading for on my Satellite Navigation, pressed 'go' and we were off! The previous evening I had also managed to find and download an app for my smart phone which provided me with everything that I needed to know about the New Forest, including important interactive maps citing forest walks, attractions and most importantly the local watering holes, ie pubs.

Walking in the New Forest, it was easy to get lost in the beauty and tranquility of this magnificent woodland. What went through my mind was that I was in this spectacular, ancient forest being guided by 21st century GIS technology.

Today, GIS technology in Europe is being used in so many areas of our lives, as exemplified here in a rural application, where it can keep me updated on my location within a map so that I don't get lost and also ultimately ensure that people continue to visit a place like the New Forest, guaranteeing its existence in its current form. In rural locations like this, GIS helps to manage large areas of vegetation, vitally important in the job of fighting global warming. In addition to this, GIS can be a key component in understanding other geographical areas where an assessment of the landscape needs to be performed. In contrast to the New Forest, I live in an urban environment, where GIS is used to make informed decisions regarding, for example, where schools or shopping centres should be built. It can also play a role in observing how urban sprawl has affected plant life.

As I took a picture on my smartphone of the beautiful surroundings of  the New Forest, I could not fail to see how important imagery, and in particular the use of remote sensing, is in adding further capability and information to GIS with regard to landscape monitoring. Advances in sensor technology, where development of satellite sensors with sub-half-metre spatial resolution, mean that features in any type of environment can now be easily identified using both manual and automated methods. Remotely sensed data is highly suited to recording landscape characteristics, and this, together with improvements in advanced analytical workflows, is focused on helping GIS professionals to obtain useful geospatial information from remotely sensed imagery. I cannot help thinking that analytics, such as feature extraction and change detection workflows that can easily tell users what changes have taken place in an area over time, determining how many buildings there are in a particular location or seeing how deforestation has affected a specific region, are just a few examples of how remote sensing can provide information that is otherwise very difficult to obtain. And it is this data that helps to keep us safe and informed, and of course ensures that we continue to enjoy treasures such as the New Forest.

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