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Using Drones to help Forestry Management

Forestry England, through the Forestry Commission have just indicated that they will be using drones for helping manage their forests. Forestry England is the largest land manager in England and custodian of the nation’s public forests. They aim to connect everyone with the nation’s forests by creating and caring for forests for people to enjoy, wildlife to flourish and businesses to grow. They support the Forestry Commission, the non-ministerial department responsible for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of forests and woodlands in England, and work with Forest Research.

What will drones be used for?

Forestry England plan to use anticipate drones for visual inspections to identify symptoms of tree pests and diseases rather than trying to assess general health. There is also scope to utilise drones to assess long term decline of slow acting pests and diseases, such as Phytophthora austrocedri in juniper stands in northern England. This is an aggressive, fungus like pathogen which infects both juniper and cypress trees causing dieback and tree death. Another tree disease prevavlent in Scotland is Phytophthora ramorum, a fungus that has spread from rhododendrons to larch, forcing many estates to fell thousands of trees to try to halt the outbreak.

Drones will be able to detect this through tree top surveys and penetrating areas that are often inaccessible on foot. Aerial surveys will also lessen the chance of spreading disease throughout a forest and even from forest to forest, which can happen with ground surveys.

Detection of disease any disease would be achieved by producing orthorectified layers to create a year on year archive of changes of areas of dieback.

Other tasks will no doubt include to:

· monitor contractors work

· fire prevention and to assess devastation following any fire

· create 3d images to help future tree plantation planning and monitoring growth

The use of drones will eliminate hours of work from conventional foot patrols and inspections.

Further use of thermal infrared by drone by their low flying ability and at night provide optimal conditions for monitoring both wildlife and looking for lost souls! A recent study in Poland showed with preliminary results that thermal surveys from drones are a promising method for ungulate enumeration (counting mammals with hooves) . They demonstrated that with ground resolution of ~10 cm it is possible to visibly distinguish large species (i.e. red deer) and achieve a good level of area coverage.

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