Tuesday 27 November 2018

QGIS and biological recorders

Jerry Clough talks about QGIS at the
BSBI Recorders' Conference 2018
Image: D. Alston
One of the most popular talks at the recent BSBI Recorders' Conference was Jerry Clough's talk 'Introducing QGIS for botanical recorders'. It was so popular that Jerry had to concede to requests for an impromptu and informal drop-in session straight afterwards. We managed to squeeze Jerry and several botanists in to the bar area as we already had workshops running in all the classrooms!

With so much interest in QGIS, it seemed very fortuitous when FSC's Rich Burkmar - Mr. QGIS himself! - contacted me to ask if BSBI botanists would like to collaborate with FSC in promoting a consultation they are running on the FSC Plugin for QGIS. I accepted on your behalf, so over to Rich to tell us more: 

"At the last NFBR conference at Preston Montford, Shropshire - a conference aimed squarely at biological recorders - I was surprised how many attendees, particularly those of younger generations, considered GIS to be central to their biological recording skillset. 

Jerry's QGIS workshop: participants included
(from left): Jon Shanklin (BSBI Field Meetings
Secretary), Dave Barlow (joint BSBI County
Recorder, NE Yorks.) & Chris Metherell
 (BSBI President)
Image: D. Alston 
"I'm really the last person that should be surprised by this - I can't imagine pursuing my own interest in biological recording without tools to spatially represent and analyse biological records - but many biological recorders of my generation pursue fulfilling interests in biological recording without going near GIS - that's something they leave for other people.

"This generational shift must be influenced by a number of things, for example it is likely that a higher proportion of younger biological recorders want to pursue related careers where GIS skills are highly sought-after. Another influence must be the increasing exposure of younger generations to all sorts of digital technology, including GIS, from an early age and the increasing accessibility of high-quality GIS tools. 

Screenshot of QGIS showing
the FSC plugin on the right
"Over recent years, QGIS has been a real game-changer in respect of making high-quality GIS more accessible. QGIS started life over 15 years ago and has since become the world's leading open-source desktop GIS. It started life as 'Quantum GIS' but the 'Quantum' part has officially been dropped in favour of a simple enigmatic 'Q'! Like scientific names of plants, it doesn't really matter how you pronounce QGIS, as long as you say it with confidence! (Personally I favour 'kew-jiss'.)

The FSC QGIS plugin
"Not only is QGIS freely available, but it supports a wide range of operating systems including Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Unix. There is even an Android version under development. This means that choice of hardware and operating system is unlikely to restrict access to QGIS.  One of the best features of QGIS is its extensibility: it is possible for any programmer with the requisite skills to contribute a QGIS 'plugin' that extends the functionality of QGIS to carry out particular tasks more efficiently. That's exactly what we did when we created the 'FSC QGIS plugin' (also known as the 'TomBio plugin') for biological recorders as part of the FSC's Tomorrow's Biodiversity project.

The FSC team picking up the CIEEM
 'Best Practice Award for Knowledge Sharing'
in 2017 from Baroness Young
"The plugin plugs the gaps (pun intended) in QGIS when it comes to dealing with biological records - particularly those geocoded with Ordnance Survey grid references - as well as providing a number of other utilities for UK biological recorders, e.g. easy access to NBN Atlas data from within QGIS. The plugin has proved popular with over 31,000 downloads since its release in November 2014. The last release for version 2 of QGIS (version 2.8.0 of the plugin) has had over 5,800 downloads and our recent new release for version 3 of QGIS (version 3.0.0 of the plugin) has been downloaded over 1,600 times. The plugin was the winner of the 2017 CIEEM 'Best Practice Award for Knowledge Sharing'.

What other QGIS gaps could the FSC QGIS plugin fill?
"When the FSC Tomorrow's Biodiversity project came to an end, we were thrilled to be able to roll our support for the plugin forward into the new FSC BioLinks project. This means that FSC plans to support the maintenance and development of the plugin until, at least, the end of 2022. The release of version 3.0.0 of the plugin was an early result of its adoption by the FSC BioLinks project, requiring major reworking to accommodate the new architecture of QGIS 3. The FSC QGIS Plugin was amongst the first to be 'ported' to QGIS version 3. But support from BioLinks will mean much more than simple maintenance of the current toolset.

Jerry in full flow!
Image: O. Pescott
"We want to hear your ideas about what functionality you would like us to add to the plugin. For example one idea is to provide a direct link to MapMate so that records can be mapped directly from a local MapMate database without having to extract them first. Another is to be able to quickly generated distribution maps divided into date classes.  But what would you like to see? We're interested in hearing your ideas - however simple or outlandish! We've created a short online consultation where you can give us feedback on which of the current tools in the plugin you find most useful; what works and what doesn't and what new features, if any, you'd like to see.

"To have your say, please participate in the short online consultation hereThe consultation will be open until we carry out our next round of development on the plugin (likely in second quarter 2019). The more responses we get, the more likely it is that the next phase of development of the plugin will meet the needs of our biological recording community, so please pass the link on to anyone that you believe might be interested in expressing their ideas and opinions. Here's to the next five years of the FSC QGIS plugin!"

Many thanks to Rich for sharing the above. Please use this link if you'd like to take part in the consultation. And do check out all the other great resources from FSC.

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