Scottish Forestry has revealed it is using high-tech aerial photography techniques to identify “trees in distress”.
The government agency, which is responsible for forestry policy, support and regulations in Scotland, begun using the high-res aerial photography due to social distancing regulations, which prevented staff from undertaking their usual helicopter inspections.
Increasingly, trees are facing more threats due to pests, disease and climate change, the agency warned. Over the past year, the use of technology has enabled staff to maintain crucial survey programmes and ensure forests across the country flourish.
“Our usual process for tree health inspections is three highly trained and experienced foresters, in a helicopter spotting a study area and taking geotagged photographs of any trees that may require further investigation,” said Patrick Robertson, Tree Health Planning and Contingency Manager at Scottish Forestry.
“However, at the height of the Covid lockdown this just wasn’t possible so we looked at what tools we already had and how these could be applied.”
Scottish Forestry said it awarded a contract to Bluesky to capture almost 1,400 square kilometres of standard aerial imagery together with colour infrared photography.
The Leicester-based firm operates a range of aircraft and sensors, including three Ultracam Eagle Mark 3s, two CityMappers which allow for the collection of vertical and oblique imagery, as well as LiDAR data.
Data was captured by the firm during the summer of 2020, the agency said, and was used in a range of desktop mapping and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) software.
Robertson explained that aerial photographs enabled staff to identify individual trees and groups of trees that were “displaying signs of distress” and thus required additional investigation.
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The aerial photography techniques also helped separate areas of healthy vegetation from non-vegetated areas, further enhancing the agency’s ability to monitor areas.
As the data used in surveys is geographically accurate, Robertson added that the agency was then able to locate sites and act faster. Long-term, the success of the project could have huge implications for forestry maintenance, Robertson said.
“This project was a reaction to extenuating circumstances however, what it has done is shown that aerial photography is an effective and efficient way of studying tree health over large areas,” he commented.
“As a proof of concept this will be extremely valuable as we continue to evolve the way we monitor protect our forest assets.”