How to: Mapping

Information and advice for using mapping technologies, from Google Maps to ArcMap and everything in between.

Mapping Software

You have a range of choices in desktop mapping Geographic Information System (GIS) software which can be used on computers for mapping, recording or planning Landcare projects.

What is GIS?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are computer software systems which allow users to view maps, create, edit and query map information (layers).  The capabilities of these systems, and the skills required to use them, are roughly proportional to the cost of the software.  

There are freeware (free), shareware (low cost), commercial (low to high cost) and web based software options.  Which one a group uses will depend on a number of issues.

For more information on GIS and the data types, have a look at the Wikipedia site.

What GIS system can we use?

The following information is purely based upon available knowledge of use, and is not comprehensive nor should be taken as recommendation.

Probably the biggest consideration for this question is budget, with skills the second issue.

If your group has no budget for software, then your best option may be to use the DELWP or other web based map systems, see links below.

Another option is to use free software, or low cost options.  For a good range of these, see the links to Wikipedia sites.  Note that this is not all the available options - if you want, try a google search for GIS software.

GIS software being used by Landcare

The following is a list of some systems known to be in use by Landcare, but may not be all.

High End Software:

ArcMap - this is the full capability system used by DELWP.  This is high end, and costs $1-4000 depending upon which components.  For more information, go to ESRI Australia.

There is apparently a 'Landcare' licencing option which costs less than $500 for ArcMap, but you will need to negotiate with ESRI Australia.

MapInfo - is another high end GIS system used by many Local Government organisations with similar pricing ranges.  For more info go to MapInfo Australia.

Please note, this page only identifies known usage, and is not intended as a commercial recommendation.

Free Software:

Online Mapping Portals - some CMA's are now providing their own online mapping systems to enable Landcare and other groups to map their projects and activities directly onto the CMA system.  Contact your local CMA to see if this is an option.

QGIS - Quantum GIS (QGIS) is being used by Landcare and related groups in Victoria.  QGIS is a user friendly Open Source (free) Geographic Information System (GIS) that runs on Linux, Unix, Mac OSX, and Windows. QGIS supports vector, raster, and database formats, including the common ArcGIS and particularly Mapinfo formats (which is used by many Councils). QGIS is highly capable software, but is still fairly easy to use, and is well supported by a range of users. Go to the QGIS website for more information.

Google Maps or Google Earth - these are free web based mapping sites, similar to the DELWP Interactive Maps.  These are free to use - Google Maps is purely online, while Google Earth requires software installed on your computer. Google Maps has recently implemented the 'My Maps' system which allows users to create and share maps, including the ability to record point, line and polygon activities. Have a look at Google Maps or Google Earth websites for more information.

What else do you need to use GIS software?

The software is only part of the use of GIS.  The data, imagery or layers are the crucial information sources which you will also need to be able to relate works to areas.  While all this software allows users to create layers from GPS or other systems, you will still need a range of other data to make this useful.

Groups using GIS generally work with a few key layers:

  • Imagery such as digital aerial or satellite imagery - either scanned or purchased from suppliers - if this is good enough resolution may be able to provide enough detail for most group planning or recording needs
  • Roads layer - showing local and major roads,
  • Hydrology - ie waterways
  • Property boundaries or Cadastre can be helpful
  • Ecological Vegetation Class (EVC) layer showing expected vegetation types for an area.

The difficulty with getting most of these datasets are that there are usually costs associated with the purchase of these.  Most of these layers and more are now available free at

Free mapping tools available

There are a range of free mapping tools and datasets available for Landcare groups and project managers.

DELWP Interactive Maps

The Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DEWLP) interactive mapping sites have considerable potential to be used for catchment or project planning, monitoring, reporting, or general interest.

The sites allow users to view a wide array of Victorian Information layers, including waterways, roads, properties, parcels, Landcare group boundaries, EVC's and water resources using the Mapshare system.

It is possible to find the responsible authority for crown land parcels using this system, or view a single farm boundary.

These interactive maps allow you to zoom in and out, pan around the map, identify features in the map, perform queries on databases, generate reports, link to other sites and create printable maps (in PDF) based on themes.


The DataVic provides free public access to Victorian Government generated or owned data.

If your group is looking to get mapping layers to assist with project planning and reporting, DataVic gives you access to free mapping layers.

Government data from all agencies is being progressively released in a machine-readable format to minimise access costs and maximise use and reuse. 

In August 2012, the Victorian Government launched the DataVic Access Policy to promote open access to government data to drive innovation, create new business opportunities and enable new services.

The DataVic Access Policy is designed to support agencies in release of data at no, or minimal, cost to users, and to provide greater and more convenient public access to Victorian Government generated or owned data.


Bowerbird is an online portal for individuals and community groups to record sightings, images and discuss Australia's biodiversity. This site allows Landcare groups to set up their own organisation area, or projects, to record flora and fauna sightings, add images, videos.  Sightings can be mapped and classified against a full national taxonomy.

Bowerbird is a socially networked, web-based, community, biodiversity workspace for Australia, although anyone is welcome to participate. It can be used by individuals, citizen scientists, amateur and professional science-based Organisations and Societies and Field Naturalists clubs. Its strength will be a single point of entry for biological communication and sharing.

The primary aims of BowerBird are:

  • To share and deliver biological sightings to a broad audience
  • To allow individuals, local, state or national groups to form, manage and develop their own workspaces
  • To encourage comment and forum discussions on sightings or topics
  • To aggregate a minimum dataset (eg. Name, location, latitude/longitude) that will allow sightings to be shared nationally and internationally (ALAGBIFEOL etc)
  • To become the community’s eyes for Biosecurity that will detect or monitor invasive species.

Atlas of Living Australia

The Atlas of Living Australia contains information on all the known species in Australia aggregated from a wide range of data providers: museums, herbaria, community groups, government departments, individuals and universities. The Atlas also allows community members to add species records, with spatial data.

A national collaboration between the Australian museums, herbaria and biological collections, and the Commonwealth Government, the Atlas creates a national database of Australia's flora and fauna, all freely available online, and is helping to build a more detailed picture of Australia's biodiversity and provide more adequate biodiversity data for researchers, environmental managers and policy makers.

In its first five years, the Atlas has built a rich database of information on Australian plants, animals and fungi, with over 30 million occurrence records from biodiversity surveys and 170,000 species pages, plus photo galleries, distribution maps and mapping tools, national species lists, heritage literature, and more - a one-stop shop for information about Australia's biodiversity.

Google Maps

Google Maps Australia is a basic map generation or viewing website - basically online mapping.

This is a handy website to generate basic maps of an area, including satellite imagery.  You can print share and email maps if you wish as well.

In some areas, the quality of the Satellite imagery is excellent, and suitable for use in project planning and recording.

Google Maps now also has the 'My Maps' option for signed in users.  This allows a user to create maps which can include user generated layers, such as works maps, with the ability to create point, line and polygon data.

Google Earth

Google Earth is the high level mapping tool from Google, but requires users to load software onto their computer. It allows a massive array of map viewing, movement, including 3D and 'flying' over areas.

This is best recommended to use only with broadband connection, and can only operate with the appropriate software loaded onto your computer.  If you just want to see maps using a browser, go to Google Maps.
Google Earth combines the power of Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3D buildings to put the world's geographic information at your fingertips.
  • Fly to your house. Just type in an address, press Search, and you’ll zoom right in.  
  • Search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Get driving directions.
  • Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings.
  • Save and share your searches and favourites.
Like Google Maps, this system has access to some very high resolution satellite or other aerial imagery for some parts of Australia and Victoria, often higher quality that that available on the DSE mapping sites.