top of page

Our Opportunity Map: A Guide to GIS and Mapping Geospatial Data

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

We are building a mapping tool to process geospatial data and highlight areas in West Berkshire that could be used for biodiversity and carbon capture projects.

Introduction to GIS

GIS (Geographic information System) is software that allows users to visualise, merge and analyse geographic data. Data can range from natural features such as river networks and terrain to manmade features such as buildings. By overlying data sets, useful observations can be made by identifying the relationship between features. One example of this is overlaying rivers, terrain, and building location data to locate areas most at risk of flooding.

The ability to associate attributes (information) to a specific location on a map is what makes GIS invaluable as a geospatial analysis tool. On a 2D paper map, representing a large amount of information associated with one area can create cluttered complex maps, making it difficult for users to interpret. One GIS project may include numerous data sets, but it can easily be manipulated to only visualise layers of interest.

The two most popular GIS platforms in use are the QGIS (free to use) and ArcGIS (21 free day trial). QGIS (Quantum GIS) is an open source geographic information system whereas ArcGIS is a product created by ESRI. Each platform is user friendly so if you are a beginner to GIS the best way to learn is to download GIS software and follow an online tutorial (links below). BioCap Ltd based in West Berkshire, is currently analysing a host of habitat and geographic data to build an opportunity map for the region. One example (displayed) built in QGIS is a simple representation of terrain variation and river networks. This is one example of data that will be used alongside important wildlife sites to locate areas for habitat expansion and tree planting.

Useful Websites:

QGIS Download:

QGIS Tutorials:

ArcGIS free 21 day trial:


Data used to construct maps within GIS software comes in a range of forms. The ability to overlay and toggle different data types within a GIS project is what makes it a versatile and effective method of visualising and extracting information. Paper maps are limited to one visual so to reduce complexity a large amount of information cannot be displayed.

GIS Data Types:

Raster Data - Put simply this is the closest to an ordinary map, an image. A raster is built up of tiles which could range from aerial photography, satellite imagery to modelled data e.g., an elevation matrix. There is no associated database behind a raster, its is represented by pixel resolution alongside x/y coordinates.

Vector Data - this represents specific features on Earth’s surface. There are three types, each building up the next. The simplest is point data, compromising of individual x,y locations. Two points that are connected create a line, the second data type. When a set of lines are connected or closed this creates a polygon. Using an agricultural field as an example, a point data could be a specific feature such as a water trough. The field boundary is composed of line data. The field itself will be represented as a polygon. Each feature can have attributes (information) associated for example dates, field boundary length and field use.

Data collection and assimilation is a large part of BioCap’s continued development of the West Berkshire Opportunity Map. There is a wealth of freely accessible data sources online with up to date environmental, historical and government data. Each platform visualizes the data prior to download so anyone can look at their local region without the need to download large data sets.

With the large amount of data available it can become difficult to identify the appropriate sources for the specific use. Two key aspects to consider is the accuracy of data e.g.,resolution and date of collection. You may have to prioritise one, again depending on use.

One of the most useful platforms and should be the first source when looking for environmental data is DEFRA’s Magic Maps. Partners include the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Historic England, Natural England, Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, and the Marine Management Organisation. Users do not need any specialist software can easily load different data loads in the same window.

Here is a draft for a pilot map in West Berkshire:

copyright BioCap Ltd 2022

If you are interested in collecting data and learning more about your local area, here are a few useful links:


DEFRA Magic Maps

Ordnance Survey Free Downloads

TVERC (Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre)


GeoCento Satellite Imagery Platform


National Library of Scotland

For the period Sept 2020 - April 2021 the BioCap team will be working to develop the West Berkshire Opportunity Map

We will be working with our partners;

  • IMGeospatial

  • Englefield and Wasing Estates

  • Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre

  • Soarizon (a subsidiary of Thales PLC)

  • Ordnance Surveys Geovation Accelerator Programme


  • University of Cambridge

To do the following:

  • Assemble existing mapped data

  • Make ecologically based decisions on what to do where in West Berkshire Countryside and map this

  • Fly drones and capture images

  • Analyse the outputs and data and develop decision making tools and methodologies

  • Automate the mapping process to make it scalable

  • Launch the West Berkshire Opportunity Map and star the next phase of public and community engagement.

548 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page