Welcome to the Balsam Blog, home in the internet world of the Falkland Islands Protected Areas Project.

I'll be using this blog to let people know what I've been up to and to share bits of useful information I pick up along the way. My project is subtitled 'Co-operative management of biological diversity', so that means you. The project will need your knowledge, concerns and hopes for the future to drive it along, so do contribute.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Invasive plants; What is your vision for the future?

I was in town last week to help facilitate a workshop for Richard Lewis to help him develop an Invasive Plants Strategy for the Falklands. It was really well attended, with about 25 people from government departments, conservation organisations and the wider community, who took part in a range of activities to generate ideas and establish priorities for tackling invasive plants in the Falklands.
In one activity early on in the day, groups worked together on a picture very kindly provided by Ben (did I tell you my husband is an artist and designer?). They had two copies and had to annotate and draw on them to show two visions of the future; one was to be a positive vision of how we think the islands might look if we develop and implement a suitable strategy, and the other was a vision of how the islands might end up if we don't.
The apocalyptic 'bad' versions were useful (and entertaining), but I was most interested in the 'good' visions. Some interesting ideas emerged; one was that we can't hope to eliminate all invasive plants, but need to concentrate on identifying and tackling the really bad ones. Everyone was in agreement that even more important than this will be education and information, and good biosecurity to stop things getting in in the first place.
I was most struck by Jim McAdam's vision of the future (many of you will know Jim from his 40 years of work with agriculture in the Islands). He spoke about the need for the Camp to be settled, lived in, and managed for people, agriculture and nature.  We can't turn the clock back to a time when people weren't here, and we don't want to; in that case we need a flourishing Camp community to look after the countryside, and part of that will involve tackling  invasive plants.
Stinging nettles on Middle Island
I'd like to thank everyone who came for taking part in all the activities so enthusiastically. I'd also like to thank Richard for inviting me to facilitate, and my co-facilitator Brian who kept us to time, among other sterling contributions.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

So what does 'GIS' actually mean for us?

You are not alone in asking that question! When I trained in Geography 20 years ago, it was the new thing. I then put it to one side and hardly thought about it, until now.......

GIS stands for Geographical Information System.
It's a way of storing, organising and presenting information, and combines mapping, databases and statistics.
You probably have some experience of this already, if you have ever used satnav, or GoogleEarth, or a handheld GPS, or if you've tried to get rid of that irritating map on facebook.

 Basically, you start with a base map. This is usually a really good satellite image. The newer satellite images can have a pixel size of 0.5m x0.5m!
You load this into your computer program, and then you can start adding more data, a 'layer' at a time.
So for example, if I went to Hawks Nest Pond today (what a great idea), I could take my GPS and walk the boundary of the new reserve. I could then save this data in the program and produce a new map. This would be a really small data set! If you counted all the albatross in the islands, or entered all the climate data for the last 50 years, you would be using much bigger data sets.

Once you have some data and some base images, you can start to ask your GIS to do all kinds of amazing things.

If I had the digital version of the geological map, and my Hawks Nest Pond boundary, I could find out what kind of rocks and soils were there. If I had done the right work on the plant records for the islands, I could predict what kinds of plants would be most likely to grow there; by combining the data set for 'places where we have found silvery buttercups' with the geological map, we could start to make predictions about other places where they might be found growing.
GIS also allows us to map and interpret changes over time. This is likely to be particularly useful if we really are experiencing a changing climate. We can look at all kinds of relationships between rainfall, changing vegetation cover and land use, to help landowners and managers to make decisions about how to get the best from their land in the long term.

Why now?

GIS has clear benefits for conservation planning; if you have data about the important species and habitats you want to conserve, and other data about the land available for conservation, either because it's already a nature reserve, or because it's publicly owned, or because its owners already manage it for conservation, then you can start to assess how you are doing and what you need to do next. There are various tools around to help with this. One is a computer program called MARXAN; you put all that data into it, and it tells you where you should be focussing your efforts.
One of the objectives of the Protected Areas Project is to have a good look at MARXAN to see if it would work for us. Over the next few weeks I'll be putting out some feelers to try to find out what data is available to use for this- this kind of thing is only as useful as the data you put into it. Unfortunately, there are a few stumbling blocks right at the start:
  • satellite imagery; you know how I said at the start that you need a high resolution satellite image.....well, we don't have any. They are expensive. Who will pay?
  • data; masses of high quality data has been collected over the years but it is all in different places. I haven't tried too hard to look for it yet, so wish me luck with that!
  • a base map; there seems to be a digital map produced by the military, but we don't seem to be able to use it. Otherwise we are reduced to a scanned version of the 1963 OS map. Or GoogleEarth; have a look at the image for Sea Lion Island for a demonstration of the limitations of this!
We are not downcast by this; the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute has this right at the top of its agenda; an island wide GIS is what we need, and this time around, we might actually be going to get it. It opens up a whole new can of worms, to do with data and copyright issues, and whether we all give up our data to allow other people to use it.

(The images are from a presentation given by Justin Moat, head of GIS at Kew. I wish I could explain it as well as he did.)

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Extreme photoshoot

A behind -the- scenes look at Barnaby's latest photoshoot. He wanted everyone to know what he goes through in pursuit of excellence. Note the safety measures- we are following health and safety regulations even on Sea Lion Island.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

It's finished!

This is the last time I will talk about interpretation for a while, but I wanted to share the finished article.
The criteria for this leaflet were quite narrow:
  • it had to be small enough to fit into a child's pocket
  • it had to be sturdy enough not to blow away or crease up too badly
  • the text had to be readable by someone who's only 6
  • it didn't need to teach anything new; the children should already know about the animals and plants, and will have learnt about biosecurity and the countryside code. 
  • it had to give them something to do if teachers and helpers found their attention flagging
The trip to the island will take place in a couple of weeks time. I'll be looking forward to hearing how it went.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Less is more

 I have been doing a final piece of interpretation for the school kids to use on their trip to Kidney Island this year. The Barnaby Bear books and activities are intended for use in the classroom. However, on last year's trip, fab though it was, we all felt that there were moments when the children needed a bit more direction. I'm not a fan of unwieldy worksheets on school trips, so I've gone for the very simplest of trails, based on the senses.
The text is not finished yet, but I just wanted to share Ben's illustrations because they are really great. He says he hasn't done anything like this before! I'm keeping the text to a minimum; the children are only 6 or 7 and they don't want to spend their trip reading. It's often tempting to try to cram as much into a leaflet as possible, but it's a mistake. Fewer words, backed up by great illustrations and activities to do can have a much greater impact.
I'm putting together an evaluation sheet for the teachers; if we all like the materials, there will be more for other places, of both the leaflets and the Barnaby Books.
Where do you think we should do next?