Five years of GIS and Protected Areas seminar


Effective work of the institutions of the Nature Reserve Fund (NRF) of Ukraine requires constant cartographic support, the use of remote sensing data, biodiversity data analysis, recreational use, and much more. When starting to work in the national park Anton Biatov (now a nature protection GIS-specialist) and I needed new knowledge for working with spatial information. Where to get it? The use of modern technologies in nature protection institutions was not very widespread and not very actively covered.

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Fig. 1.  Mapping the beaver families habitat territories using GPS in the Slobozhanskyi National Nature Park

The experience of the Belogorye State Nature Reserve (Belgorod Region), which at that time already created the web-GIS of the institution and started UAV surveys, inspired us. When we were at the location of “Forest on the Vorskla” Nature Reserve, Pavel Ukrainski (junior researcher at the Regional federal centre of aerospace and ground monitoring of objects and natural resources at National Research University BelGU) held several lectures on working with Earth observation data. After that, we understood the direction we needed to move in.

But it turned out, it’s not so easy to embrace the new direction of research methods on your own. The acquaintance with Oleg Seliverstov (head of geoinformation projects at Intetics) during the conference of the Society of Environmental GIS was the second significant event. I discovered OpenStreetMap (OSM) and the organization of data collection from remote users. So, logically, the question arose – how to create a platform where you can understand the issues and learn the methods that are needed in the work of nature protection institutions? Internet sources were not enough, it needed live communication. Anton and I received the answer when we took part in the Theriological School-Seminar. An informal working atmosphere, interesting reports, a lot of practical workshops and a direct exchange of experience between specialists and beginners – it was that not only gave new knowledge but inspired further work. Therefore, in order to exchange experience in the use of GIS technologies in protected areas and in nature conservation projects, raising the professional level of specialists of the NRF institutions, the scientific-methodical seminar “GIS and Protected Аreas” was initiated in 2013 by the Slobozhanskyi National Nature Park and the Kharkiv regional branch of the National Ecological Center of Ukraine (Fig. 2).


Fig. 2. Logo of the seminar “GIS and Рrotected Аreas”


GIS and Protected Areas

The seminar is organized in three blocks:

  1. Theoretical materials and work of colleagues in the form of thematic reports.
  2. Workshops of different levels of complexity for mastering both the general principles of work with GIS and the solving of highly specialized problems.
  3. Demonstration of equipment for field data collection.

What has been achieved in five years of work?



During the five years of the seminar, we have heard over 60 reports. They were devoted to the regeneration of wetlands, research of small rivers, creating digital terrain models, studying of landscapes, monitoring the number of animals, identifying the impact of anthropogenic factors, designing and managing of national parks and reserves, use of OSM data, construction of databases, reviews of plugins, mobile GIS and others. More than half of the reports were about scientific research (Figure 3). The overviews of geoinformation technologies accounted the significant part. Unfortunately, the reports about use GIS in tourism, recreation and ecological education were least represented. Perhaps the presentation “Use of Big Data in the study of the functioning of the NRF objects (on the example of the Gomilshanski Lisy NNP) from Mykola Kozyr was the most memorable of all reports. And the next year, the proposed algorithm for the use of social networking photos was used for the study of the use protected areas by the visitors at the Pyryatynskyi NNP!

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Fig. 3. Natalia Kasyanova’s presentation about atlas mapping of the Dvorichanskyi NNP



“More practice!” is the slogan of “GIS and Protected Areas”. Therefore, the main attention is paid to the workshops on the current trends in the use of modern technologies. We’ve held more than 30 of them in five years. Most of the workshops concerned features of working with QGIS and ArcGIS, editing and using OSM data. But the classes on creating web applications, maps for GPS, databases, analysis of social networking photos, etc. stood out most (Figure 4). Each year, the master class on creating field data collection forms and working with NextGIS Mobile evokes the greatest interest among the participants.


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Fig. 4. During the masterclass


Data collection

For the duration of the seminar the participants have time to get acquainted with modern equipment for field data collection. The Field-Map Complex for the study of natural objects was demonstrated by the representatives of the Ukrainian Research Institute of Forestry and Forest Melioration named after G.M. Vysotsky. Each year, during the training, the trial data collection is carried out using ArcGIS Mobile and NextGIS Mobile. And spectacular workshops on surveying with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) make a special impression  (Figures 5 and 6).

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Fig. 5. Work with mobile GIS

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Fig. 6. Launching a drone



Each year during “GIS and Protected Areas” seminar the round table is held where participants discuss the prospects for further development of the community, urgent joint nature conservation projects using geoinformation technologies, needs and problems of protected areas for the implementation of GIS in their work (Figure 7).

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Fig. 7. Lively discussion during the round table

Representatives of about 30 organizations from 10 regions of Ukraine and one participant from the Belgorod region of the Russian Federation took part in the workshop during five years. Most of the participants came from Kharkiv and Kiev (Figure 8).


Fig. 8. Map of the seminar participants

Communicating with colleagues and solving a common problem in the field of GIS promotes the introduction of modern technologies into daily work of conservationists. Such approaches are actively used, especially in scientific activities, at Slobozhanskyi NNP, Dvorichanskyi NNP, Gomilshanski Lisy NNP, Pyryatynskyi NNP and other nature protection institutions. One of the joint projects of the seminar participants and other interested parties was the “OSM Data Extracts for Nature Conservation of Ukraine” service. It allows displaying boundaries of protected areas on a web map on the background of different base maps and satellite imagery. The number of services and projects is increasing, so the “Environmental GIS”  group was created on Facebook for the effective communication and provision of operational assistance.

According to the results of the seminar “GIS and Protected Areas”, two sets of seminar proceedings have already been published and the third is being prepared for printing (Figure 9). Digests, presentations, announcements, news and plans for further work can be found at the seminar website:

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Fig. 9. Seminar proceedings



But also during the seminar, an extremely friendly and productive atmosphere is created! Permanent specialists, Anton Biatov, Oleh Prylutskyi, Oleg Seliverstov, Roman Sizo, Oksana Bodnya, who are present almost every year, are happy to give advice and develop ideas till late at night. A required part of the program is gatherings near the bonfire, exchange of impressions and thoughts. A positive charge from being in the circle of like-minded people helps participants bring new knowledge to their institutions and embody new approaches. The organizers emphasize that they are always happy with new views, new achievements, and welcome those who want to study and teach.

So, my advice to nature conservationists – join!