, Volume 39, Issue 1-3, pp 373-384

The countryside information system: A strategic-level decision support system

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Abstract

The Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE) has monitored ecological change in Great Britain (GB) since 1978. The task has been undertaken using a stratified sampling scheme working with a 1 km square as the sample unit. In more recent years, scientific researchers at ITE have been working closely with the policy-makers of the United Kingdom Department of the Environment. The presentation of information to policy advisors and planners was a component within a large project investigating the ecological consequences of land-use change. A simple PC-based decision support system was developed during the project and subsequently has been expanded to produce a marketable product. The system, called the Countryside Information System (CIS), presents and links information at national, regional and thematic levels along with qualifying data describing accuracy and appropriateness of use (i.e., metadata). An integral part of the CIS is the ITE Land Classification, which divides GB into 32 environmental land classes; all 250 000 squares have been classified. The classification allows sampled data to be presented and, as the co-ordinate system is widely used in GB, it allows census datasets to be linked and compared. CIS has been described as a Geographical Information System, but the classification, data held within the system, and the use of metadata to assist in interpretation of results make the system much more decision-support oriented. Indeed, government departments have been involved in directing the development and are now starting to use the system to answer parliamentary questions and formulate, assess and monitor environmental policy. The CIS is an open system, running on a standard PC in Microsoft Windows. Tools for loading and editing new datasets (both sample and census) are incorporated in the suite of programs. The Windows environment and users comments during development have produced a system with an intuitive feel, removing some of the overhead of acquiring specialised technical skills before being able to operate a system. This paper describes the CIS and presents examples of its applications.