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In order to fully account for the environmental condition and changes in our landscape, researchers spatially map and categorise the land in terms of both its landuse and landcover. This information is generally gathered by interpreting satellite or aerial imagery and is presented in the form of a Geographical Information Systems (GIS) dataset where unique land features are mapped and categorised in terms of either their landcover or landuse properties.
Landcover describes the land in terms of the vegetation or other bio-physical surface type is present on the land. A typical landcover classification schema will have varying levels of detail staring at general landcover and then working its way down to more habitat specific descriptions, e.g. Grassland > Semi-improved grassland > Dry calcareous grassland. The level of detail given is dependent on the resolution of the imagery used to produce the classification. Typically satellite imagery of 10m - 20m resolution is used, enabling a Level 1 or Level 2 classification. Level 3 (habitat) classification is difficult to achieve using medium resolution satellite imagery and requires a ground survey. Landcover information is of particular interest to environmental and ecological researchers who wish to assess the condition or changes in the natural landscape.
Landuse is a description based solely on the human activity or usage of a land parcel. Whereas landcover may describe an area of agricultural land as ‘Semi-improved grassland’, landuse would detail what the farming activity is on the land e.g. ‘Pasture’ or ‘Fallow’, etc. Landuse is not always discernible from satellite or aerial imagery and so additional ground-based information is needed to fully ascertain the landuse of a particular land parcel. Landuse information is of particular interest to socio-economic researchers and carbon accounting and reporting applications.
Alterations in both landuse and landcover are the most noticeable and far-reaching of all environmental changes. Unsustainable land use change can impact human health, have a harmful effect on water, air, soil and biodiversity and conflict with land use planning. It is therefore important to map both landcover and landuse on a regular basis, enabling the tracking of any changes on the ground.
The EPA is the national focal point for European Landuse and Landcover activities and has been producing the pan-European CORINE landcover dataset for Ireland since 2000. This datasets is the only current national scale landcover dataset in Ireland and as such is an important source of information for a wide range of environmental applications.
Find out more about the CORINE landcover dataset here.
The EPA is currently involved in discussions with the other national agencies to try and develop a dedicated Irish national land cover mapping programme. This will aim to replace CORINE as the main national land cover dataset with a land cover data series that is more detailed in terms of spatial resolution and in its classification structure. It is envisaged that it will be based on the OSi's new Prime2 national geo-infrastructure and will have a spatial resolution of 1ha or less.
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