GIS-based modelling of regional conservation significance

This paper explains an approach for appraising the extent and quality of native vegetation and identifying significant habitats at strategic regional and local levels. The Vegetation and Habitat Conservation Significance Framework (hereafter the framework) is formulated through a planning process which includes seven stages from defining the Purpose of the study (Stage 1) to Implementation and monitoring (Stage 7). The cornerstone of the framework is the formulation, in Stage 3, of a Regional Habitat Significance Model which integrates the Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP) with Geographic Information System (GIS). An expert workshop (Stage 4) is an integral part of model construction and should comprise 10 to 15 persons including environmental and land use scientists, ecologists, planners and landscape architects with good knowledge of vegetation, biodiversity and habitat matters, as well as relevant decision-makers. Experts are provided with all the data sets generated in Stage 2, and limitations and advantages of each data set are discussed. The initial construction of the model (undertaken at Stage 3) is validated, or modified, and then its components are weighted through consensus of the experts. The GIS platform permits the ongoing improvement and input of the latest, relevant information and the preparation of a new assessment in a cyclical planning process. The method is predominantly explained by reference to its application in the rural shire of Macedon Ranges, State of Victoria, Australia.