Accessible Wildlife Sites' - A micro-internship project

article written by Naomi Parker, TVERC micro-internship student

During my micro-internship with Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC) I worked with GIS data to create a new GIS dataset of Accessible Wildlife sites across Berkshire and Oxfordshire. This data is crucial for volunteers and academics that need detailed information on the accessibility of these sites.

Throughout the week, my skills in data collection and GIS work improved greatly. I used open access software QGIS3 to create the dataset.  I used attribute table feature to record new information, such as the site type and then additional details such as entrance fee, parking information and opening hours. This extra information is useful for volunteer biological recorders as it makes it straightforward to plan data collect and try out new sites.

My first task was to categorise the sites in terms of their known levels of access. I was provided with three types of accessibility categorisations, as follows:

  • Open Access Sites – sites which have unrestricted public access all year round across the whole site.
  • Restricted Access Sites – sites which have some restrictions for public access, such as permit schemes or entrance fees, but once in the whole site can be accessed.
  • Limited Access - No entrance fee, however the public access is limited to certain rights of way such as public footpaths.

Firstly, I researched the site online to find out a little bit about each site. I used websites such as the National Trust and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. These were crucial for obtaining information such as opening hours, access to parking and entrance fees as these all determine the accessibility a site will have from the perspective of the volunteers. The Oxford and Reading council sites were also a key source of information.

After I had collected all the information, I produced a map by creating a labelling system based on categories of access fee.

This means that land can be quickly identified to see all accessible sites and any that incur a cost to visit or that are free.

I found that the majority (458) of the sites were limited access. However, of those, many (431) did not have an entrance fee. Most limited access sites tended to be woodland, nature reserves and parks.

I found only 13 sites could be classified as restricted, and that most of these had an entrance fee. Most of the restricted sites tended to be national trust gardens and country parks.

Over 300 of the sites were found to be Open access land and of these, the majority did not have an entrance fee.

TVERC hopes to be able to promote these GIS of wildlife sites that have public access to recorders in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. With this dataset, volunteers can be encouraged to extend the range of sites from which they collect data, thus making the records more representative of the range of biodiversity in the county.