Condatis: bigger, better and more joined up

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Habitat network software tool

Condatis is a software tool designed to aid conservation planning by evaluating the connectivity of an existing habitat network and prioritising potential restoration opportunities. It uses a metric called conductance, which was developed from electrical circuit theory, and which provides a comparable and quantitative assessment of how connected a network of habitat patches are. Condatis considers connectivity over multiple generations for species that need to shift their range, in order to escape climate change for example. Its development was informed by a range of partners from the practitioner community, several of whom were present at the meeting. Presenters on the day were a mix of practitioners, policy makers and academics, mostly from the UK.

The 2nd knowledge exchange meeting

The Condatis project held a knowledge exchange network meeting recently at the University of Liverpool. It was attended by conservation planners from multiple sectors who presented their work on connectivity in ecological networks and spatial analysis, ranging from very experienced practitioners to those just starting out in this field. The meeting also included structured discussion sessions, designed to inform the development of the software as well as networking opportunities.

From Borneo's agricultural landscapes to tree planting in the Northern Forest  

Talks were scheduled in the morning to allow the group to get to know each other and to help with later networking. There was an excellent collection of case-studies. The session started with Sarah Scriven (University of York), who presented her PhD research on identifying habitat connections for range shifting species, in agricultural landscapes in Borneo. Her work will contribute to the planning process for new protected areas in Borneo. Closer to home, Tom Butlin of Mersey Forest showed how Condatis is being used to inform tree planting within the Northern Forest project.  The plans include planting 50 million trees over 25 years between Liverpool and Hull. Read more on Toms' project in The Northern Forest: Thinking about a landscape (link to article).  Sarah Taylor from Natural England explained how spatial data is helping with landscape-scale conservation and restoration at a strategic level. She also highlighted some of the outstanding issues with current ecological network models.

From conservation planning in the Isle of Man to development mitigation in Warwickshire

After coffee, the diversity of case-studies continuted with Tim Graham from Manx Wildlife Trust giving a summary of the conservation planning process on the Isle of Man. The local Wildlife Trust is positive it can reach its target to protect 20% of its land using Condatis to factor in connectivity. Following was Phillip Whelpdale from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust who provided are reflective presentation suggesting that useing Condatis is not as simple as we might like, as interpreting the outputs from any model always takes some degree of experience and background knowledge. Ben Wood (Warwickshire County Council) showed the group how Condatis (alongside other spatial data) has been used to assess mitigation measures for the new High Speed Two rail infrastrcuture project.  Finally, Amy Cowburn, Natural England, talked the group through the plans to model an ecological network across Cheshire to Lancashire using Condatis as part of the Greater Manchester Wetlands Partnership.

Web application, new functions and international testing

In the afternoon, Jenny Hodgson and Katherine Allen, gave a short update on the Condatis project. Jenny is the creator and developer of Condatis and Kath manages the knowledge exchange aspect of the project. Recent successes include winning University of Liverpool funding to develop Condatis into a web application and extend the knowledge exchange network to include users in developing countries. The web application is now almost ready for beta testing, and some partners expressed an interest in helping with that process.  Later this year, Condatis 1.0 will be released as an online application, and will include new functions such as considering connectivity in multiple directions and accounting for varying costs of restoration when prioritising sites. New partnerships in Ghana, Indonesia and Malaysia will be developed by using a case study from each country to test the new model functions and the partners there will provide valuable guidance on making Condatis relevant for an international audience.

Feedback and discussion

The group then provided feedback in a structured discussion, which included the following issues:

  • Improvements and additions they would like to see in Condatis 1.0
  • Potential user errors for which Condatis should provide error messages
  • Wish list of GIS tools to support Condatis
  • What help users require to run Condatis alongside other tools
  • What data would be needed to run all the spatial analyses the group would like to do
  • How Condatis has changed how people think or work
  • How Condatis has (or may in future) made a difference on the ground
  • What support is required to increase the impact of Condatis

Sharing knowledge for mutual support

The friendly and informal meeting was organised as part of the Condatis knowledge exchange project, which aims to foster a supportive network of new and experienced users of the software for mutual support and sharing of information. The network has a website and a twitter presence @condatisKE. The talks can be downloaded in full from this website or this link (opens in a seperate window) and anyone wishing to join the knowledge exchange network for support, updates on training, software developments and further meetings is encouraged to email to get involved.