Hampshire’s Changing Landscape – How can Crowdsourcing Help?

Hampshire’s Changing Landscape – How can Crowdsourcing Help?

Hampshire is changing

The changing face of our landscape is something that affects usLandscape Watch Hampshire all; the loss of hedgerows, rapid expansion of urban areas or erosion of our coastlines to highlight just a few crucial issues. Some of the more serious forms of landscape change can make areas more exposed to flooding or threaten the natural habitats of local wildlife. Even though information about landscape change is extremely important, the reality is that Hampshire County Council doesn’t have the resources to be able to constantly monitor change across the whole county and so may miss vitally important information that could help to prevent major problems before they occur.

Effectively monitoring landscape change is extremely difficult. Although Hampshire County Council has a comprehensive archive of aerial photographs of our county, analysis of these images is almost impossible to automate. This is because of the visual complexity of the landscape and the difficulty a computer would have differentiating between genuine change and more subtle variations, such as the passing of seasons, the length and direction of shadows, or even the movement of cars. However, a manual analysis of these images by humans can provide enormously valuable information that can be used to help combat the most serious or harmful forms of landscape change.

This is where we come in

A partnership between the University of Portsmouth, local satellite and aerial image analysis company RSAC Ltd and Hampshire County Council has just completed a beta version of a new crowdsourcing platform called ‘Landscape Watch Hampshire’ to help remedy this situation. Crowdsourcing is a process where large numbers of people come together to work collectively on achieving a common goal or outcome. This can be a very effective way of tackling certain issues because ordinary people can contribute even a little of their spare time to help with a collective effort. If enough people contribute, it can add up to making a big difference.

Example screenshot from our prototype
Example screenshot from our prototype

Our project needs your help to monitor the changing face of our local landscape over time. Volunteers will be shown pairs of images of different parts of our county and asked about the broad types of land cover that appear in each photograph. By comparing any differences in the information you give us for each image, we can quickly see where landscape changes are taking place and help the Council to identify and remedy problems quickly.

The beauty of our platform is that anyone can take part. The information we need to extract from each image is relatively straightforward and there is plenty of help and guidance provided to help you identify the key features we are looking for. You certainly don’t need to be an expert to be able to make a real difference. You also don’t need to worry about making a mistake – because we are looking to combine information from lots of different users together in order to make an assessment, our analysis benefits from the ‘wisdom of crowds’. This is a phenomenon where the average answer to a problem provided by a large number of people is more accurate than any one single answer; even those of experts.

Crowdsourcing and the University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth has a proud history of involvement in crowdsourcing projects. Our researchers were involved from the beginning in the development of the renowned ‘Galaxy Zoo‘. This crowdsourcing project collected information from hundreds of thousands of volunteers all around the world regarding the properties of tens of thousands of images of galaxies taken by deep space telescopes. The data gathered from this project continues to help scientists understand the nature and evolution of the universe.

The Zooniverse home page
The Zooniverse home page

The success of Galaxy Zoo led to the birth of the Zooniverse; an online platform hosting a wide range of crowdsourcing projects helping researchers understand patterns of climate change, troop movements in World War I, the types of plankton that live in the ocean and many, many more issues besides.

We’ve helped build and run these projects looking at international and even inter-galactic issues and now want to use this expertise to help tackle a significant problem on our very doorsteps.

How can I help?

We’re calling upon everyone with an interest in the County and its landscape to get involved and help us out by giving just a little of your time to help the Landscape Watch Hampshire project. You can visit the beta version of the site at www.hampshire.landscapewatch.com.

We’d also like you to help spread the word, so please share this link and pass information about the project to anyone you think might be able and willing to help out.

Hampshire is a very unique and beautiful county and we all share the responsibility of watching over and protecting it. We really hope you’ll be able to help by giving a few minutes of your time to support this project.