Esri UK’s onsite training helped us to analyse survey data, giving us the confidence to push ahead to cockle bed management.

Ensuring the sustainability of protected cockle beds

An on-site training course, designed and delivered by Esri UK, gave Natural Resources Wales the confidence to use GIS in a project to survey and manage protected cockle beds. The organisation can now analyse its survey results with greater accuracy, present data more clearly and make the best possible decisions to resolve the conflicting interests of fishermen and seabirds.

The Customer

Natural Resources Wales advises the Welsh Government about the environment in Wales, helping to ensure that all natural resources are maintained, enhanced and used in a sustainable way. The organisation consolidates activities previously carried out by the Countryside Council for Wales, Environment Agency Wales and Forestry Commission Wales.

The use of ArcGIS, in place of spreadsheets, gives the fisheries team greater accuracy and consistency in the reporting of its cockle bed survey results

ArcGIS allows the cockle bed survey results to be presented in a more visual format, making the findings easier for different stakeholders to understand them

The onsite, tailored training course proved highly cost effective, as it was made available to multiple teams within the organisation

The Challenge

Tucked away in a corner of South Wales is a saltwater estuary that is a Special Protection Area of European significance. Called the Burry Inlet, it comprises over 4,000 hectares of mudflats, sand dunes and salt marshes. The region is home to millions of cockles, and commercial cockle fishing has taken place in the area for over a hundred years. However, cockles also provide a critical source of food for up to 13,000 overwintering birds including Oystercatchers, Knots, Shovelers and Pintails.

Natural Resources Wales is charged with managing these precious cockle beds and regulating fishing, to ensure that sufficient stock remains to nourish the internationally important wildfowl population. Twice a year, it collects sample data from 400 survey points throughout the estuary, calculates the biomass of cockles and uses this information to set fishing quotas called the Total Allowable Catch (TAC).

For many years, the organisation had tabulated the results of the survey in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. Elsewhere in the organisation, however, geographic information system (GIS) technology was used with great success, and the fisheries management team recognised that it could use GIS to improve the calculation and presentation of its survey results. “GIS was undeniably the way forwards,” says Dave Tavner, technical officer for the fisheries management team at Natural Resources Wales. “We had used GIS previously, but we were a bit unsure about how to get started in using it for our cockle surveys.”

“ The GIS method is less open to mistakes and gives us greater confidence in our calculations. Once the parameters are set correctly, the analysis is run with a few clicks of the mouse

Dave Tavner – Technical Officer, Fisheries Management Team, Natural Resources Wales

The Solution

Natural Resources Wales approached Esri UK and arranged a one-day, tailored training course, to be delivered at the organisation’s own premises. The course was designed specifically to cater for the needs of the fisheries department and the trainer focused on showing the cockle fisheries team precisely those tools and techniques that would enable them to replace spreadsheets and transform their existing survey process.

Natural Resources Wales already had an Enterprise License Agreement with Esri UK for the use of Esri’s ArcGIS platform. The fisheries team therefore did not need to make any additional investment in software, in order to be able to develop its new GIS application.

Following the training course, Dave Tavner and his colleagues were able to use GIS to help them collate, analyse, calculate and present their survey results. The team took advantage of Esri’s Spatial Analyst extension, in particular, and employed tools such as ‘zonal statistics’ to accurately calculate the cockle biomass. In addition, the team used the GIS application to create visualisations of the estuary, including ‘hot spot maps’ showing those areas with the highest density of cockles.

“ Esri UK’s onsite training gave us the confidence to push ahead with a new approach to cockle management. GIS is now helping us to quantify the cockle population and take appropriate steps to meet the needs of fishermen and birds alike

Dave Tavner – Technical Officer, Fisheries Management Team, Natural Resources Wales

Benefits

The use of ArcGIS gives the cockle fisheries team greater accuracy and consistency in the reporting of its survey results. “The GIS method is less open to mistakes and gives us greater confidence in our calculations,” says Tavner. “Once the parameters are set correctly, the analysis is run with a few clicks of the mouse.”

What is more, ArcGIS enables the organisation to present its survey results in a far more visual and attractive format on digital maps, which are much easier for people to understand. “The hot spot maps that we can produce using ArcGIS are particularly effective,” Tavner says. “They help us to justify our decision to allow cockle fishing in a European marine conservation area.”

The onsite training delivered by Esri UK was of a very high quality and – being tailored to the organisation’s needs – gave the team precisely the skills they needed to use GIS in a new way. “Having training that was specific to our job was really helpful,” admits Tavner. “It showed us new techniques for achieving our goals.”

He adds: “Esri UK’s onsite training gave us the confidence to push ahead with a new approach to cockle management. GIS is now helping us to quantify the cockle population and take appropriate steps to meet the needs of fishermen and birds alike.”

Because the Esri UK trainer came to Natural Resources Wales’ own offices, Tavner was able to invite colleagues from the hydro-acoustic fisheries assessment department to participate too. The course was therefore highly cost effective and delivered benefits to a larger number of employees, some of whom may not otherwise have had the opportunity to access GIS training.

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