Environmental protection

Digital forest mapping to enhance climate-smart forest management

Etienne Thomassen, credit: Bosgroep Zuid Nederland

Etiënne Thomassen is a forest ecologist and an employee in Forest Ecology and Forest Management for Bosgroep Zuid Nederland (a forest owners cooperative) in the Netherlands.

"Mergin Maps is a tool we use in many planning, management and monitoring activities. The Cloud solution is very good for us, because we can easily share between co-workers but also with contractors or volunteers." (Etiënne Thomassen  – Bosgroep Zuid Nederland)

What is a Bosgroep? 

A Bosgroep is a non-profit forest owners cooperative which aims to support its members with sound and sustainable forest management. At first the aim of the cooperative was to provide professional forestry advice and achieve advantages of scale for our members. Nowadays our scope has broadened and Bosgroep supports its members in all aspects of forest and nature conservation. 

The working area of Bosgroep Zuid Nederland  covers the provinces of Zeeland, North Brabant and Limburg in South Netherlands. Among the 483 members are private forest owners, owners of nature areas and estates, as well as municipalities and nature conservation organisations. 

The extent to which the Bosgroep supports its members greatly varies depending on the wishes of a specific owner. It can be limited to a single grant application or arranging a specific management action, but we can also take up most of the forest management responsibilities for a member. Municipalities in particular use this last service, as they do not often have their own professional forestry management. Municipalities are keen to have a cost-effective plan, which enhances biodiversity and aims to keep the forests accessible  for recreational use i.e. maintaining pathways, etc. 

Etiënne adds: "That's where we come in. We draft a forest management plan for their area in accordance with their wishes. After finalising the plan we can take up the management for them in accordance with the plan. To  ensure the cost-effectiveness, we often try to find subsidies and grants to carry out the management interventions, and sometimes sell timber."

The areas of forest in the Netherlands owned by members of the association vary from a few hectares to more than one thousand hectares and, in the case of nature conservation organisations, several thousands. But this last group manages their areas by themselves.

Enrichment planting of a group of five young oaks under a pine forest within which oak is scarce. We stake out the planting locations before the actual planting and record the locations with Mergin Maps. This way we can match the species to the correct site conditions (light conditions, soil). The contractor gets Mergin Maps project access to find the location. In order to achieve sufficient accuracy, we pair a Juniper Geode to our device, otherwise the contractor would spend too much time searching the sites.      

Life Climate Forest

Staatsbosbeheer (The Dutch State Forestry Service)  and the Bosgroepen (the separate Dutch Bosgroeps combined) are partners within  LIFE Climate Forest – a 7-year project designed to enhance the resilience of forests to climate change.  With financing from the LIFE programme of the EU, it aims to demonstrate climate-smart forest management and establish demonstration sites. On the demonstration sites, measures are taken to  increase structural and tree species diversity. We use a nature-oriented approach using small scale measures, aiming to keep the forest canopy intact while increasing diversity.  In this way, with diversity enhanced, a forest is more capable of resisting or adapting to climate change.  We use Mergin Maps in this project to train fellow foresters to identify and then share specific trees or other elements that require management action or attention.


Example map with data collected using Mergin Maps and Juniper Geode. The icons of trees with a big canopy indicate trees with high timber quality. The trees with a lighter canopy colour are considered special habitat trees while the leafless trees indicate dead trees which are also very important for biodiversity. The icon with some red in it indicates a site to plant a few new trees and will be handed to a contractor. We use this Mergin Maps project in LIFE Climate Forest to transition to climate smart forest management promoting continuous cover forest management and diversity.

Evolution of Forest Mapping     

In the past, forest management was carried out with pencil and paper maps. Because that was rather impractical and inaccurate, organisations searched for software solutions to meet their needs. Since then, the GIS industry has come a long way to meet the needs of modern mappers. The last important piece of GIS evolution is cloud sharing, since it allows teams to share their data among team members, staff and contractors, simplifying sharing and communication. This is where Mergin Maps plays a vital role.     

Using Mergin Maps in Smart Forest Management     

Using Mergin Maps to conserve and manage forests provides several benefits:

  • An inventory of a forest under survey can be drawn up.  
  • Interventions can be planned on the basis of the inventory e.g. felling of trees and planting of new trees.
  • Interventions in the field can be marked in the field and in the app e.g. important trees that need to be preserved and pruned for future timber production, or habitats that need to be protected, so that management can be planned according to such elements. 
  • Contractors who are added to the project are required to use Mergin Maps to carry out their relevant tasks. The sharing with contractors is a very important advantage for effective forest management.
  • Data are easily shared and updated amongst members.
  • There are no individual and costly licensing problems, due to the Team account offered by Mergin Maps.

Juniper Systems GNSS

Mergin Maps is also capable of connecting to external GPS devices to acquire higher accuracy location data. For this study, Mergin Maps was paired with affordable Juniper GeodeTM GNS3 which is well suited for a dense canopy where the gps signal of phones or tablets is not reliable.

Mergin Maps is proud to play an important role in climate-smart forest management.

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