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Helping save Europe’s protected areas with geographic information


Creating synergy by coordinating Europe’s protected areas requires consistent and accurate information to guide decision makers and management authorities. Geographic Information Systems can meet this need but uniform data collection is difficult. Nature-GIS is helping to simplify its collection.

This IST programme-funded project is providing some of the answers to how data from so many different sources, and in so many different formats, can be made accessible to all the various interest groups active in nature conservation

A prototype for European spatial data

Nature-GIS is one of the demonstration projects of INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe) - which envisages free Internet access to geographical information from across the European Union and Associated Countries at a local, national and European level.

"For example, when the JRC [the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre] took on the job of collating data on the sites selected for protection under Natura 2000 [a pan-European network of protected areas], the enormity of the task became apparent," says Emanuele Roccatagliata of the GISIG Association that coordinates the Nature-GIS Thematic Network "Data arrived in very different formats, using different technologies and approaches to data collection."

The first project phase involved a detailed Europe-wide questionnaire survey of user needs, data requirements and functional requirements. The results, published in December 2003, confirm the importance of geographical information to managers of protected areas, both to support day-to-day decision-making and to implement legislation. But they also highlight the need for more data sharing and cooperation at the different levels, and a coherent framework that enables users to introduce and extract data.

Accommodating different user needs

The User Needs Assessment is contributing to the technical guidelines and the prototype Web portal, the other main project outputs. The guidelines set out a common policy on data collection, storage, management and dissemination, but it is not a users manual. It is important that users can apply these guidelines, even if they use different technologies.

The first draft of the guidelines will be presented at next month’s conference in Budapest (8 June 2004). It is also the opportunity to present the demonstration Web portal, which will provide the interface for sharing and accessing geographical information.

Different partners have collected data from four concrete examples of protected areas. Through the demonstration Web portal, it is possible to enter this data directly from the different sources, and then to make it accessible in a consistent form over the Internet. The portal is currently being tested by the partners, and is likely to ’go live’ soon after the Budapest conference.

Nature-GIS brings together partners from 19 countries of the European Union. But as Roccatagliata points out, "the network is open to any party with an interest in nature conservation. Our goal is to create a permanent ’Nature-GIS group’ once the project has ended, to continue exchanging information and raising awareness of the potential value of geographic information for protected areas."

Emanuele Roccatagliata
Via Piacenza, 54
I-16138 Genoa
Tel: +39-010-8355588

Tara Morris | IST Results
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