Understanding the history of land use

Many ecological and geographical studies are limited by a lack of knowledge of the history of land-use.  Most land-use maps apply to a single moment in time. This is not sufficient for situations where a sequence or trajectory of land-use change may be of great consequence to present and future land-use. There are few time-series land-use datasets available, and most studies that do examine land-use change over time are of small extent, or include few time-points. In this study we ourselves the ambitious aim of producing a digital land-use history database and map that would cover the whole of Victoria (227 416 km2).

We constructed this database from distinct timeslices by digitising primary historic resources held within public archives. Nine time-slices are used, covering the period 1837 to 2005. The last time-slice in our sequence uses remotely sensed contemporary imagery and modelling to describe recent land-use patterns.

Current cadastral parcel boundaries were defined as the basic spatial units. The map may also be used as a single summary dataset in which each parcel is coded according to its past changes in usage. We believe this database and map to be amongst the most detailed and comprehensive of its kind anywhere in the world.


However, there were a number of limitations of the resulting map database from a technical perspective. The final land use history ‘map’ is best able to contribute to broad-scale research, with more limited application to detailed studies which would require higher resolution local data.

Further details of this work can be found in these publications:

Sinclair SJ, White MD, Medley J, Smith E, Newell GR (2012). Mapping the past: Constructing a digital land-use history map for Victoria, Australia.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria.

Duncan DH, Kyle G, and Race, D. (2010). Combining facilitated dialogue and spatial data analysis to compile landscape historyEnvironmental Conservation 37 432–441.

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