Bell Ingram revolutionises woodland mapping

Chris Duncan

Bell Ingram’s Head of Mapping Chris Duncan gives the lowdown on his ground-breaking Forestry Cloud system which received an unprecedented level of interest at the AGI Conference (#AGIScot19) in Stirling this month ….

Forestry has always required maps, whether simply to record crop information, plan new planting/restocking or a full, long-term forest plan which included many maps showing lots of different information.

The way maps have been prepared has changed significantly over the 11 years I have been in Forestry. When I first started as a graduate, I was working with maps that had been produced by hand with colouring pencils, whereas now there is the general presumption that maps will be prepared using GIS.

This is further reinforced by almost every forestry manager job advert including a requirement for GIS knowledge and experience.

Using GIS to prepare maps is fairly straightforward but using GIS to record and store forest information in a consistent and structured manner is more complicated, particularly when dealing with multiple forests and multiple users. Forest data sets are made up of a series of ‘one to many’ relationships between the different layers of information. Without a dedicated system and procedure for recording all the information, it requires a high level of data understanding and discipline of the user to manage the data in a logical way.

Bell Ingram have used GIS and digital mapping for Forestry for many years. Several years ago, it became abundantly clear that storing individual datasets for each property was not a sensible approach, as we manage many forests from multiple offices across Scotland and we required a more integrated approach.

The solution we have developed is a cloud-based geodatabase built on the open-source software PostgresSQL and QGIS. This system allows all its foresters to have secure access to the forest database for any office or any other internet-connected location. The company is also able to publish information online, via a secure service, allowing its clients to access their own forest records.

In order to maintain data quality within a complex system and make it easy and simple for the foresters to use, I developed a plugin for QGIS which condenses all the functions required for data management into a single toolbar. This allows the user to access all the forest data and GIS layers at the click of a button. Editing is carried out through a transactional system so the user does not have to access the main system in order to make changes, so there is no risk of accidently corrupting the data. This approach means minimal work for the users in order to get maximum benefit from the system.

Forestry is a long-term process and forward planning is essential. The UKFS and Certification Schemes impose strict restricting requirements on forest composition. In the past, calculating changes over time and visualising the future composition of the forest was a very involved process, with the long-term forest plan production forecast potentially taking hours to complete every time felling or restocking plans changed.

In the past, calculating changes over time and visualising the future composition of the forest was a very involved process, with the long-term forest plan production forecast potentially taking hours to complete every time felling or restocking plans changed.

Our system is not just limited to the office, mobile technology has transformed in recent years, and our forestry system makes use of this. QField is the Android app for QGIS and our system allows a copy of the forest records to be downloaded to a device and taken out into the forest. Any updates to records made in the forest can then be uploaded back into the database on their return to the office.

Our approach to modernise woodland mapping using modern techniques and open-source software enables us to be at the cutting edge of mapping, using modern equipment to maximise our efficiency and reducing costs so our clients get the best value for money.

*For more information about Bell Ingram’s Forestry and Mapping Services email enquiries@bellingram.co.uk

Published on 28th March 2019