Introduction - hi; gis based wychwood work; pointers on how to enter "GIS" world?

M.Blackmore mblackmore at
Sun Mar 12 17:34:54 PST 2006

Hello everyone

I've just found this list, and was cheered to see that there were a
number of sites around open/free software systems and GIS/spatial
activities. I've been around the linux world for many years (founder
member of the Oxford LUG for example) and as a volunteer (in my enforced
through ill health, alas, early retirement) have become involved in a
project which is working on the conservation and enhancement of the
environment in the ancient "Wychwood Forest" area of West Oxfordshire,
on the eastern side of the Cotswold Hills. Remnants of this old royal
hunting forest still exist, in particular the area of Cornbury House
near Charlbury, which is quite sizeable.

If anyone wants to get out a map, this is about 10 miles to the west and
slightly north of Oxford, with a number of rivers (Evenlode, Windrush
etc.) running down into the Thames Valley. The Cotswolds are an old
limestone massif, now much eroded and rounded, with steep valleys, and
small towns and villages constructed of the characteristic yellowish
Cotswold Stone building material. Despite its relative proximity to
London and the Oxford and general Thames Valley area (just over an hour
into London from Charlbury by train, for example) the area is still very
rural and has a low population density for the UK.

However, it is not well wooded - what the demands of shipbuilding in the
18th and early 19th centuries left behind, the depredations of the
enclosures of common land and the old open field and strip farming
system did for in the remaining 1800's. And hence the interest in
projects that can expand and link together the remaining areas of
woodland, especially ancient woodland remnants.

The idea of a project utilising GIS has come from an initially small
proposal: due to changes in the support for farmers from simple
maximisation of food production by whatever means necessary to a role of
greater stewardship of the countryside that has been seriously damaged
in less than two generations by intensive mechanised agribusiness.
Amongst other things, landowners are being encouraged to plant more

However, some of these plantings may have major repercussions on the
landscape values - for example a thin strip of woodland on a ridge may
totally obscure a view of a valley which has been open for 30 millenia -
of a negative nature as well as a positive ones by increasing woodland
cover and wildlife habitat.

And further, these new plantings are unmapped. No one knows where they
are going, and it will be years if not decades before the next major
ordnance survery mapping is done again.

So we are starting a project to begin the process of mapping these, and
other developments, using whatever information sources are available to
record them. The obvious way to do this is to put the information into
some form of digital storage with good presentational qualities - a GIS
in short. 

But for me "a GIS" is just a name for something on a computer. And there
is the problem - I know darn all about what a "GIS" is apart from a
layered map drawn prettily on a computer monitor!

The idea, however, is to eventually expand a presentationally oriented
and hopefully interactive system based on this "GIS" into a tool for
educational purposes for the local village and town schools, for people
resident in the parish areas, and so forth.

For obvious reasons, the use of open source software is ideal, so we
aren't nailed into licencing restrictions, uneccessary costs, can be
easily adopted and modified, the values of "freedom" as in FSF wherever
possible (etc.!), with ideas about bootable CDs or DVDs stuffed with
data and presentational material being made available etc. I've found
tonight, for example, that a bootable gis system has already been done
based on knoppix!

So ... for a COMPLETE gis newbie ... where do I start? How does one
begin to educate oneself in this new field? 

Recommendations for books, online courses, tutorials, what sort of
software we should be looking into, examples where others may have
already done this sort of thing, and so forth, will be gladly received!

Best wishes all

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