iPads make it easy to collect conservation data

NCC uses iPads in its conservation work to track changes and plan for the future.

Screencap from an NCC iPad (Photo by NCC)

Screencap from an NCC iPad (Photo by NCC)

Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) field staff use iPads to help document information about NCC properties. This allows them to record changes on the properties, such as exact locations and conditions of invasive and native vegetation, or buildings and fences that might break conservation agreement restrictions.

Using the iPads, NCC staff receive maps created by a Geographic Information System (GIS) analyst. These maps are generally aerial photographs with additional mapped features. Also added are boundaries of natural priority areas and quarter sections so that staff can see their real-time location along a property that may not have borders defined by fencing.

“The biggest advantage of using the iPad is that all of the field data, including GPS points and photos, can be easily collected on one device. The iPad is extremely user friendly and transfer of data is seamless,” said Katelyn Ceh, the natural area manager of north western Alberta.

Staff can attach notes to the specific coordinates they are at, such as the state of a sign or what needs to be done about a dilapidated fence. The PDF Mapper program makes it simple to do this and also to show resulting maps and information to landowners.

“Once the data is entered, the program has the ability to export everything into Dropbox,” says Kristie Wegener, manager of conservation of the Rocky Mountain Front. “In a wifi zone, the data can all be sent to the GIS analyst, who can then format the data into a detailed spreadsheet.” This data — such as precise fence lengths — can be used by NCC staff to better estimate numbers of supplies and volunteers needed for Conservation Volunteers events.

One concern with introducing technology into natural areas might be how it withstands the elements, but iPads are designed to be water resistant and have protective cases for extra security. As they have six to 10 hours of battery life, the iPads can last for as long as they are needed for a day in the field.

iPads can also be used to facilitate aerial monitoring. Staff are able to use the iPads to collect data points where photos were taken and to plot a track of their flight paths. This information is important to collect for their conservation easement monitoring reports. The iPads can also be used to ensure flight paths are uniform and are hitting every quarter section.