ToolHab is a Decision Support System developed for the Environment Agency England and Wales to help assess and prioritise river reaches for habitat enhancement work. It is now in the process of being tested (Click here to access the ToolHab reference manual or click here for a pdf copy). It is based on Microsoft Access 2007 and has an inbuilt GIS.

ToolHab is one of the outcomes of a wider five-year research project sponsored by the Environment Agency and hosted by the University of Southampton (School of Geography and GeoData Institute) on decision support and river management.

Through its servers, intranet and internet connections, Environment Agency staff have access to a wide range of data and knowledge of potential benefit to their many duties (e.g. the national fisheries database (NFPD), the RHS database, BioSys, GIS data, aerial photographs, satellite images, species databases etc). One major issue is to make these sources of information available to staff in a format that is relevant to their work and adapted to their skills and work practice.

Decision Support Systems are computer programs that help users in their day-to-day decision-making processes by providing them with information relevant to their jobs. Decision Support Systems combine databases and predictive models into simple user interfaces.

This particular project was initiated by the Environment Agency fisheries science team and Thames region Fisheries, Recreation and Biology team to investigate the potential use of existing data and computer software for managing fish and their habitats.

The Decision Support System contains data for a total of 15 rivers of which 10 are located in Thames region, 3 in North West region and 2 in North East region. Only information for the main stems of the rivers where included in ToolHab. A range of datasets on fisheries, river habitats, water quality, biology and man-made structures are available through a built-in GIS interface and a series of simple forms and graphs. ToolHab also contains simple conceptual models of habitat suitability for nine species of fish and three life stages designed by fisheries experts from the Environment Agency.

Altogether, ToolHab provides simple and easy access to existing data and knowledge on rivers and fish thus facilitating the assessment of habitat quality, the identification of pressures and impacts, and the suggestions of measures for restoring/improving habitats.

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