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5 Facts That Will Make You Think Twice About ArcGIS

TETRIX Ecology recently attended a two-day QGIS training event at Stanmore College in London. The course was hosted by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and was presented by Paul Losse of Salix Ecology; an ecological consultancy based in London. QGIS was developed as part of the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo) and is a free user-friendly open source Geographic Information System (GIS).

Having been a stalwart user of ArcGIS for the last five years, we were understandably sceptical about the versatility of the package. So, when we became aware of the two-day training course in London, we jumped at the opportunity to learn more about the package. After an overnight sleeper bus service to London, Day 1 of the workshop started out with an open mind and an introduction to the package. By late afternoon, we had covered configuration, user interface, attribute tables, symbology and a basic introduction, for those not familiar to GIS, to the digitising of points, polylines and polygons. Day 2 of the workshop brought a more detailed exploration into QGIS, where we learned about the plotting of coordinate data, generating queries and designing a print layout (composition in QGIS speak), in addition to a continued opportunity to practice digitising more complex maps.

So after two days were we converted to the way of QGIS? The short answer is yes. Quite simply, QGIS is as powerful and versatile as ArcGIS, as not only did QGIS offer the same functionality as ArcGIS, but its user-friendly interface was more intuitive and easier to use than ArcGIS.

We have included an example below showing the programs ecological functionality - our local park (Dawsholm Park situated in the west of Glasgow) - set against metadata for Ancient Woodland and SSSI.

We’ll report back over the coming months as we continue our exploration of the packages functionality and would love to hear from other users regarding their experiences with QGIS. However, for those members of the ecological community who weren’t able to attend the workshop in February, fear not, the CIEEM is running a second workshop on the 24-25 April in Nottingham. Details of the course can be found at and if you would like to try the functionality of QGIS, the program can be downloaded and installed from the following URL:

So in summary, here are our five facts that will hopefully make you think twice about using ArcGIS:

  1. QGIS is free (seriously it really is…) although you might want to consider a donation to support its continued development.

  2. QGIS runs on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, BSD and Android operating systems: (no need for a dual-boot setup or virtual platform).

  3. QGIS is compatible with raster and vector file formats and is directly comparable to ArcGIS in terms of the creation of polylines, point and polygon data – in our opinion with greater ease and user friendliness.

  4. Due to its development as an open source GIS tool, there’s a whole community of users developing a raft of useful plugins (720 and counting..), which serve to extend the functionality of the base program, many of which are directly applicable to the ecological community e.g. the FSC Tombio Tool.

  5. The QGIS web site supports a comprehensive user guide, training manual and handy QGIS tutorials to help a user get the most of the package. In addition, there is also a very healthy blog, hosted on the main web site, where the QGIS community can share their experiences with the package and pass along valuable advice to other users.

Image Credit: TETRIX Ecology

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