22nd September

Mapping the connection between farming and the water environment

In an era of rapid change, farmers in Ireland are getting used to constantly assessing the most profitable and sustainable strategy for their enterprise. As part of that change, an awareness of impacts on the water environment has come to the fore, writes Gearóid Ó Riain, director, Compass Informatics.

At the same time, farm enterprises and water resources organisations alike are looking to mapping and geographic technologies to assist with decision-making and efficient management. These technological tools now play valuable roles in making the most of what both the land and the water offer, and in minimising conflicts over what happens where and when.

Another real spin-off of this awareness of the connection between farming and the water environment on one hand, and the value of geographic technologies on the other, is the employment created in companies providing these technical services and designing new solutions and tools.


Software systems
In Ireland, Compass Informatics has specialised in this area, working over the past eight years with mapping, photographic and survey technologies and creating easy-to-use software systems that bring huge amounts of data together to provide colour maps and tables of data to help answer many questions. These software and survey systems run on normal computers and have been used for land management, nutrient management, water quality, angling, and coastal planning.

These systems are even relevant to the strengthened REPS 3 programme now under consideration by farm managers, where there is an incentive to consider issues such as river bank protection, otherwise known as riparian zone protection. The importance of such measures is apparent from the thousands of photos captured of rivers around Ireland over recent years using a digital camera system with attached GPS for recording the location of each photo.

These very detailed images are added to the software and when the user zooms in on images they show individual bushes in fields, and rocks in the river. They also highlight areas where there is no vegetation on riverbanks, and where erosion caused by the river force itself or by stock access has led to river damage. If there were riparian trees and other plantlife, the erosion would be held back; insects would fall from branches to feed trout, and dung and kicked up riverbed sediment from watering animals would not release nutrients to the river.

These image and map systems help to guide REPS-type planting of banksides and therefore development of angling and generation of money for the local economy.

Mapping technologies
Farmers know only too well the importance of EU funds and directives - here too, mapping technologies have a big role. While mapping technologies manage agri-payments, they also help to ensure that farming, industry, and commercial activities do not damage water quality in rivers, lakes, estuary, coastal, and importantly in ground waters.

Compass has developed advanced approaches to assessing potential areas where farming or industry might have an impact – based for example on soil, slope or geology type, or quality of municipal wastewater treatment. This work is helping the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other regional bodies to make fair assessments and ultimately make accurate plans for action to ensure good water quality, which is of such importance not only to our well being but to our economy.

Indeed, a recent study conducted for the Department of the Environment using a Compass mapping system highlighted the billions of euros that good water quality is worth to all sectors of the economy, particularly the farming community.

Making systems that help make good decisions is one thing but making these informative maps and data available to the public or across an organisation is another. Here again, geographic technologies have been used to make the information available on web-pages with maps and attached tables, photos, and even video clips.
So anyone can go, for example, to the EPA website: www.epa.ie/rivermap) and find out the quality of water on their river; sailors and fishermen can assess what ports and harbour facilities are available to them by going to the Marine Institute website or Dubliners can view what archaeology is in their city by visiting the Dublin City Council website.

Leading the way in the use of mapping technologies in Ireland is Compass Informatics, a company that specialises in use of the technologies for natural resource and marine information applications. The company is making a commercial success of its very innovative approach and has been among the thirty fastest growing technology companies in Ireland over the past few years.

The company prides itself on being a one-stop-shop for mapping technologies and also web technologies with a wide range of services including highly detailed aerial surveys; GPS satellite surveying; animal and vehicle tracking; advanced map analysis systems (Geographic Information Systems); interactive maps and multimedia for the Web and DVDs, and website design and hosting.

Projects cover coastal and river management; landcover and habitats mapping; landparcel and title systems; archaeology, and even noise impact. It is a diverse but integrated mix that keeps the Compass team going.

Some marine-related projects have included:

• Development of an Emergency Response Information System for the Irish Sea focussing on the development of a management information system for the Irish Coast Guard, and dissemination of emergency response information to local authorities via Internet Geographical Information Systems (GIS).

• Operation of the National Coastline Survey – a complete aerial digital photographic survey of the coastline of Ireland. Compass Informatics is responsible for the capture of the imagery as well as the designer of a custom CD-ROM based image viewing software for public dissemination.

• Development of catchment (river basin) management systems for selected rivers in County Mayo and many other areas. This involves advanced GIS and statistical techniques for modelling fish populations; use of ground GPS surveying and, separately, an airborne fully digital camera system, for river habitat mapping

• Historical coastal erosion/accretion assessment at Curracloe, County Wexford and other locations.

The company is also involved in freshwater and land management projects.

With a leading role in the development of multimedia & mapping kiosk systems, and internet mapping systems, Compass Informatics is also improving the transfer of environmental information within agencies and to the public. In this respect, Compass Informatics has been actively assisting the Environmental Protection Agency to fulfil its role in increasing environmental awareness among the public.

For further information contact directors Gearóid Ó Riain or Paul Mills at 01-6612483/ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit their website www.compass.ie. The company is based at 19 Grattan Street, Dublin 2.

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