GIS or Geographic Information Systems are computer systems that allow lots of different information about an area to be captured, analysed and displayed in a visual format – a big digital interactive map.
A GIS officer looks after geographical information about the national park and makes sure that the right people can view and use it. A national park GIS will have all kinds of different information in it, like the location of planning applications, car parks and tourist information centres, important archaeological sites and habitat areas where rare plant species are growing.
The data inside a national park's GIS can come from many different sources. Some of the information is created by the national park staff on computers in the office. They may trace areas sent to in on an application form or add a new policy boundary created by planners. Other information is collected by staff who see things when they’re out and about in the park, such as broken gates or trees that need protecting. Staff record the location of these things using GPS (global positioning system) units.
Some information comes from other organisations who share their data, like the Environment Agency who provide information on flooding, Sustrans who map cycle routes, and Ordnance Survey who supply base maps. National parks also share their GIS data with others, and part of the GIS officer's job is to make sure that the right information is sent to the right people to help them with their work.
A GIS officer will work with many different people but especially with teams like Planning, Access, and Conservation. They help them combine and analyse different data to answer questions such as; how many bridleways in the national park are over 300 metres? or if the sea rose by 3 metres what would the national park look like? The GIS can also tell you many things about one place, so for a new planning application we can quickly find out if the site has a listed building, is likely to flood, is home to bats or near an important archaeological site, etc.
GIS officers also make a lot of maps. They make tiny ones for leaflets and huge ones for display boards, paper ones for legal documents and digital ones for the internet. They also make 3D computer models to help understand whether building wind farms or planting blocks of trees on a hillside would be good or not.
A bachelors or masters degree in GIS or a related subject like geography is normally required. Experience of using GIS is valuable, too. A good way to get experience is to volunteer your skills to local authorities using GIS. You need to have a keen interest in geography and map design and enjoy working on your own as well as with other teams. Even though GIS officers deal with data about national parks, most of their work is computer-based in an office.