Monday, 18 October 2010

Creating your own Watsonian VC KML files

It's a piece of cake to create your own KML (Google Earth) Watsonian VC boundaries from the free ESRI Shapefiles available from NBN (for personal use of course).

If you can download and install Quantum GIS, then you're most of the way there.

Here's how to do it:

1) Download and install Quantum GIS (Download - Quantum GIS Wiki choosing 'Windows Standalone Installer').

2) Double-click qGIS Setup file to install. Follow instructions.

3) Download the NBN Watsonan VC files (Resources - Mapping - National Biodiversity Network).

nb There are lots of options, choose 'Individual County Files Polylines folder', unless you want the dataset for the whole of Great Britain as one file, which you probably won't (if you do, it'll be a 216 Mb KML (Google Earth) file once converted).

4) Right-click downloaded Watsonian VC .zip folder. Choose 'Extract all'.

5) You'll find another zipped folder. Extract this too, preferably to the Desktop. (May take a while, especially on an old pc, make a cup of tea).

5) Open folder (on Desktop) once extracted.

6) Find your county's Shapefile (in ESRI folder) e.g. Berwickshire_polyline.shp.

7) Copy this file somewhere memorable (to the Desktop?)

8) Open your new qGIS program (link should be on Desktop)

9) Go to: Layer --> Add Vector Layer in qGIS program (on tool-bar at top of qGIS window)

10) Click 'Browse' button and choose the .shp file you've copied to the Desktop. Make sure file type is '[OGR] ESRI Shapefiles'. Click 'Open'.

11) Now you have your boundary in qGIS. We need to export it. First you'll need to select this 'layer'.

12) Go to: View --> Select Features. This will give you a cursor with which you can drag a large box over the entire VC boundary. If you do this successfully the VC boundary line will change colour.

13) Go to: Layer --> Save Selection as vector file. Fill in the following: Format = Keyhole Markup Language; Save as = 'Insert appropriate file name here', Browse to an appropriate folder to save in.

14) For CRS (Coordinate Ref. System) click 'Browse'. Search using 'Name' for 'OSGB 1936 / British National Grid'. Select this, and click ok. Then click 'ok' on the 'Save vector layer as...' box.

15) Find your new kml file and open it in Google Earth. Marvel at your GIS prowess.

Happy GIS'ing!

Friday, 20 August 2010

Excursion to Rivelin Glen, Sheffield, 01/07/2010

We walked west along Bole Hill Road, dropping down into a wood adjacent to the Hagg Hill lane allotments. Heading through the wood and the allotments, we crossed Hagg Hill Lane and emerged into the pastures shown as Rivelin Glen on the 1:25000 OS map (between Long Lane and the Rivelin Valley Road.

Plants seen and identified
Obviously there was a lot more, but we focused on things that were relatively uncommon, or presented interesting opportunities for using keys. We used either the Field Flora of the British Isles (Stace 1997) or The Revised Wild Flower Key (O'Reilly & Rose 2007).

Athyrium filix-femina (Lady Fern)
Dryopteris dilatata (Broad Buckler Fern)
Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)
Polystichum aculeatum (Hard Shield Fern)
Dryopteris affinis agg. (Scaly Male Fern)
Pteridium aquilinum (Bracken)

Symphytum x uplandicum (Russian Comfrey)
Mercurialis perennis (Dog's Mercury)
Stachys x ambigua (a hybrid Woundwort; Stachys palustris x Stachys sylvatica)
Stachys sylvatica (Hedge Woundwort)
Vicia cracca (Tufted Vetch)
Geranium x oxonianum (Druce's Cranesbill)
Hypochaeris radicata (Cat's Ear)
Galium saxatile (Heath Bedstraw)
Vaccinium myrtillus (Bilberry)
Calluna vulgaris (Heather)
Pilosella officinarum (Mouse Ear Hawkweed)
Centaurea nigra (Knapweed)
Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid).
Prunella vulgaris (Selfheal)
Lotus pedunculatus (Greater Bird's Foot Trefoil)
Hieracium sp. (a Hawkweed)

Juncus effusus (Soft Rush)
Juncus conglomeratus (Compact Rush)
Juncus bulbosus (Bulbous Rush)
Carex viridula odeocarpa (a Yellow Sedge)
Carex remota (Remote Sedge)
Deschampsia flexuosa (Wavy Hair Grass)
Holcus mollis (Creeping Soft Grass)
Alopecurus geniculatus (Marsh Foxtail)
Holcus lanatus (Yorkshire Fog)


According to the Flora of the Sheffield Area (1988), a few of these species have not been recorded for these 1km squares (monads) previously. Particularly notable are Hard Shield Fern and the hybrid Woundwort. Neither have many sites within the city boundary.

Interestingly, Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris) was recorded 'by a streamside, in Rivelin Glen' by the Sheffield Naturalists Club in 1910 (in the Flora of the Sheffield Area); one imagines the hybrid plants might be this population, (mis-)recorded in 1910, or the hybridised descendants of it.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Introducing MAGIC

I thought I'd just take a moment to share some neat online tools with you all, to
heighten your enjoyment of the outdoors to hitherto unprecendented levels:

MAGIC (Multi-Agency Geographic Information on the Country(/City?)side): this is basically a free web-based GIS tool, giving you access to a very wide range of publicy available data on the environment. If you chose 'Interactive Map', and then either 'Design my own topic', or 'Rural designations - Statutory', and give it some sort of location to start at, you'll be rewarded with a nice interactive pop-up (so make sure you enable pop-ups on your browser) map of interesting sites.

To avoid information overload, choose 'Design my own topic', and then select SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) as a starting point. This should give you a nice range of places to check out. If you are particularly interested in one site, you can use the 'i' for information button to click on any highlighted SSSI. This will give you a new window (MAGIC likes new windows, so if you think something hasn't worked, it's probably in a new window behind the one you've got open), with a link to the Natural England SSSI citation; this is basically a copy of the original document reporting why the site has been protected, and as such will give you hints on what plants and animals you'll be likely to find there.

This is brilliant tool for finding out about the country and city-side all around you. Environmental consultants use it for just the same purpose (or would do it on their own computers by downloading the datasets); developments often require an impact assessment, looking at statutory and non-statutory sites in the surrounding area can provide a quick overview of important places likely to be affected.


Friday, 30 July 2010

Books for field botany beginners

I think it would be of great help to beginners to give a brief overview of the
best books for those beginning field botany here:

When starting a botanical course, most people go straight out and buy the (revised) Wild Flower Key (Rose, 2006), which is a great resource. However, I think that when one is not at all familiar with plants, it can be hard to identify them just from illustrations (ignoring other possibilities, such as using a key!).

When I was starting out, I found Roger Phillip’s large format photographic guide, Wild Flowers of Britain (1977) to be of great help. This guide presents large photos of plants laid out against a white background, allowing one to get a clear impression of a plant’s appearance in the wild. Also, Phillips, uniquely, often gives plants more then one entry, showing their changing appearances through the year. Other benefits are that the plants are ordered by season (so if you have no idea what you’re looking at, but know what month it is, you might stand a chance), and the commonest plants (i.e. the ones you’re most likely to be looking at in the field) have the clearest (white background) photos.

Phillip’s guide is very easy to get second-hand for around £5 from Amazon marketplace or eBay, just check with the seller, if you can, that the photos are not faded.

Serious alternatives (at the same level) to Rose’s Wild Flower Key are limited to Streeter’s new Collins Flower Guide (2009) and Fitter, Fitter and Blamey’s Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland (2003). The general consensus is that Streeter’s pictures are slightly better than Fitter’s, but, as far as I recall, only the Fitters include distribution maps, which is a nice touch. Both these books have the advantage over Rose in that they include graminoids (= grasses, sedges and rushes), the id of which is essential for any serious botanising, and not as hard as is often made out.

For large-format, illustrated books, to keep back at base, the field is, really, limited to Streeter & Garrard’s Wild Flowers of Britain, or Keble Martin’s Concise British Flora in Colour. Keble Martin is very easy to pick up cheaply in charity shops or online, but the pictures are typically smaller than Streeter & Garrard, and considered inferior (though they’re very good!). Also, Streeter & Garrard has more ecological information. The BSBI recommend Streeter & Garrard.

Most botanists will probably end up owning most of these; you might wonder what the point of owning several guides covering the same plants is; well, different artists will capture plants in different ways, different books sometimes have different facts or keys, so owning several guides always results in complementary information, which outweighs the redundancy.

By focusing on illustrations or photos, I am not denigrating the use of keys, which are of course massively important. I just think that when you are starting out, having a range of good visual resources can give you a lot of confidence in whatever answers your keying out provides.