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Geographical tools could allow quicker impact assessments

Conducting Environmental Impact Assessments for major projects could become significantly quicker with the help of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) according to research sponsored by Costain.

The research project, led by former local authority GIS technician Katie McCausland at the University of Reading, is looking at how GIS can be used to assess a large-scale construction project’s potential ecological and environmental impacts.

It is hoped that GIS - computer systems which can capture, store, check and display many kinds of data related to positions on the Earth's surface – could help infrastructure providers meet biodiversity targets and conduct quicker and more definitive Environmental Impact Assessments.

 “GIS allows us to capture and store many different kinds of data, and then display this information on one map,” said McCausland, who has degrees in wildlife management and landscape ecology and is completing an engineering doctorate. “Using data from sources such as Ordnance Survey, Natural England and the Environment Agency, Costain will be able to identify areas on a project that are environmentally sensitive and so need to be taken into consideration during planning. This could, for example, influence the route of a road, railway or pipeline, so helping to speed up the planning process.”

Major customers have already expressed interest in the work, according to Matt Blackwell, Costain’s Group Head of BIM (Building Information Modelling). “Clients are keen to find out how they can cut the time needed for Environmental Impact Assessments, and also meet their requirements for biodiversity offsetting - the work they must do to ensure that where a project causes unavoidable damage, new, bigger or better nature sites are created. We will be able to help customers get the maximum benefit from their biodiversity offsetting and so really benefit an area.”

Geoff Griffiths, Director of Recruitment and Admissions at the Department of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Reading, said the University was “delighted to be a significant partner in this project with a large UK engineering solutions company working at the cutting-edge of computer-based tools for environmental evaluation and protection. It is anticipated that the output from the research will contribute significantly towards better planning and management of large infrastructure projects across the UK.”

McCausland will be speaking about her work at the SER (Society of Ecological Restoration) 2015 World Conference on Ecological Restoration in Manchester this month.

Author: James Brockett,
Topic: Contractors
Tags: biodiversity , construction , GIS

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