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Forestry and Land Scotland is working with Airborne Research and Innovation in the School of Geosciences at the University of Edinburgh to explore whether airborne remote sensing technologies can help in the effort to restore Scotland’s temperate rainforests.

The pilot project will see deployment of state-of-the-art drone imaging systems to collect ultra-high resolution data that will aid mapping invasive Rhododendron within forested landscapes.

AI analysis of  the data collected will provide a fast and robust assessment of the rhododendron extent.

Colin Edwards, FLS Environment Manager, said;

“The initial work is being done at this time of year before the trees come into full flush so that we can get a better look at the understorey, which will consist mainly of rhododendron, holly, and regenerating spruce.

“We’re essentially looking to see if its possible to gather the sort of data that will differentiate the rhododendron from other plants.

“If we can gather that in sufficient detail it will make it much easier for our teams to prioritise action areas and give them an idea of the resources that will be required to tackle problem areas.

“It would be far more efficient than traditional boots-on-the-ground surveys and could help us make our resources go much further.”

This is the latest exploration of hi-tech approaches to forest management that is revolutionising how the sector goes about its work.

FLS has also looked into the use of thermal imaging to locate deer in a forest landscape and make it easier to determine if the population level is in balance with the immediate environment. Three main techniques are being used in the study:

  • LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) uses lasers to measure distances to objects. It can reveal features of the landscape that are hard to see with the naked eye. Able to see through the tree canopy, LiDAR is already used in other aspects of forestry work. and detects and maps different forest layers. 
  • Photogrammetry is a process used to build a 3D map of an object or space by analysing changes in the information captured in a series of overlapping photographs of the subject.
  • Spectroscopy, is a way of using light to identify a material or an object by analysing how light is absorbed or reflected by the subject being investigated.

Liz Poulsom, PhD Researcher at the School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, said;

”We are very excited to be working with Forestry and Land Scotland, to bring both our forestry and aerial imaging capabilities to help solve the challenging problem of identifying invasive rhododendron, and its coverage on the west coast of Scotland.”

 FLS is a key partner in the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforests (ASR) and collaborates with other land managers to co-ordinate the landscape-scale rainforest projects that are required to make restoration a lasting success.  

Notes to editors

  1. All images one time free of charge usage with this PR. Please ensure credit.
  2. Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) manages forests and land owned by Scottish Ministers in a way that supports and enables economically sustainable forestry; conserves and enhances the environment; delivers benefits for people and nature; and supports Scottish Ministers in their stewardship of Scotland's national forests and land.

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  4. Media enquiries to Paul Munro, Media Manager, Forestry and Land Scotland Media Office 07785 527590 or