Drones in Modern Forestry
Advancements in technology are happening every day. The drone industry is expanding and therefore drones are finding their way into new industries. Drones in forestry is a relatively new concept that is getting bigger by the day.
Drones can go where humans can’t, the possibilities of what drones can do for people, businesses and public safety are endless. However, do you know how drones are being used in modern forestry around the globe? Let me tell you…
To begin with, let me introduce you to Worldview International. Worldview International is a non-profit organisation in Myanmar. Their aim is to plant 1 billion mangrove trees with the help of specially designed drones.
Until the drones were implemented, the organisation had managed to plant just under three square miles of mangrove saplings. Before the drones the work was done by hand, which is pretty impressive!
Now, with the help of drones, the organisation is aiming to plant up to 400,000 trees a day. This is a clear example of how drones in forestry are a natural (perhaps unusual), fit. Below is a video showing some of the shots that can be taken using drones:
Drones in Forestry – a tale as old as time
The earliest evidence of human effects on woodlands is from around 3,000 years ago. Generally, forests and woodlands have been thought of as an inexhaustible resource.
Wood is an important fuel and building source in today’s world. Not to mention the wildlife and vegetation that forests contain. Forests are home to invaluable ecosystems across the globe.
Consequently, over the last 50 years, the impact of climate change has become clear. We have seen the ice caps melting, coral reefs dying and forests beginning to disappear.
I would recommend you watch Netlifx’s latest documentary with David Attenborough. The documentary outlines the scale and severity of human effects on our planet and wildlife. “A Life on Our Planet” paints the terrifying, and very real threat of climate change.
Forestry is about understanding forests and working with them. The introduction of drone technology has changed our relationship with these environments. Throughout this blog post, you’ll find examples of how drones are contributing to research in forests all over the world:
Case study: Çinarpinar Forest 3D modelling -Kahramanmara, Turkey
Over 59% of the Cinarpinar region of Turkey is forested. This presents various difficulties such as access and administration.
Istanbul University carried out a study. The aim was to discover if drone photography would be beneficial for forestry management.
The team used a DJI Phantom 4 Drone, with a maximum ceiling height of 6,000 metres above sea level. If you want to find out more about the DJI Phantom 4, you can here.
The DJI Phantom 4 was flown at 120m above ground level. There were overlaps to the front and side of 60%, with 45 geotagged nadir perspective photographs taken.
The team created flight plans using Pixel4DCapture and a mobile phone. They were able to make flights of around 28 minutes. They then processed the images to produce outputs such as contour mapping of areas of the forest.
The team’s report stated that: ‘imagery obtained can provide significant data for assessment of forest stands.’
To conclude, the team recommend drones as a ‘very effective surveying tool, enabling low-cost mapping opportunity for medium and large forested areas’.
Case study: Mapping Invasive Redcedars – Eastern Kansas
Changes to farming and land management in Eastern Kansas have been apparent over recent years. This has allowed a species of conifer to become invasive. This presents a challenge to farmers and landowners. However, it also brings an opportunity that these invasive trees could be used for biofuel.
A team from Kansas State University wanted to use a drone to map the size of trees to help them understand the extent of the landcover in the area.
The team used a small, unobtrusive UAV to carry out surveys of redcedar tree stands on the Rannell’s Preserve.
The drone allowed them to gather a large amount of data even when flown at a relatively low altitude. In fact, the lower altitude combined with the ultra-high-resolution camera imagery provided greater detail than other methods, and at a lower cost.
For a similar application, the DJI P4 Multispectral is pretty close. If you want to find out more about this drone, you can have a look on our website by clicking here.
After gaining the required permissions from the landowner and the Federal Aviation Association (FAA), the team utilised ten flight lines in order to cover the whole area under study with 50% overlap between images.
On the ground, a computer was used to monitor the UAV. Nearly 200 images were captured and then analysed.
The team collected a great deal of data from the project and were able to assess the available biomass of the invasive redcedar confers in the area being studied accurately and easily by using a UAV.
The report concluded that: ‘this method could be utilised to rapidly estimate the biofuel potential of invading trees in any area of concern’. This again is proof that using drones in forestry can bring more accurate results than the human eye could.
Case study: Ancient Pear Tree Monitoring, Daxing Province, China
Daxing Province is home to a species of ancient pear trees. These incredible trees are part of China’s heritage, valued by locals and international researchers. One tree in this region is estimated to be over 400 years old.
The Daxing District Gardening and Greening Bureau aim to carry out an overview of these ancient tree communities once a year. They hope to curtail any illegal logging of the trees and to keep track of their growth and health.
The previous method of monitoring the trees was to use ground-based scanning devices. Access to the trees is extremely limited due to the large area, dense growth, and foliage of the areas of forest that need to be monitored.
The devices were hampered by the thick canopy, and many scanning locations were needed. This proved time-consuming and costly, so the team needed a more up to date approach.
The team selected UAV, air-based scanning as an alternative. The main criteria for the drone was that it was equipped with an autopilot system. It also needed Ground Control Points (GCP) to gather location data.
If you’re looking for something similar, take a look at the Phanotm 4 RTK. As well as having an extremely high quality, the drone has a professional standard camera. The camera can record videos. The UAV comes with a mobile receiver that can work with all major global positioning systems.
The team flew the UAV over an area of just under 50 kilometres. They achieved a ground resolution of around 5cm, which enabled detailed image capture. Over the course of six UAV flights, nearly five thousand images were captured. With a 65% route overlap and a side overlap of 75%.
Their report states that: ‘unlike conventional photogrammetry, SfM uses algorithms to identify matching features in the set of overlapping images.
Through a custom-developed algorithm, they were able to use this 3D model to identify. They then rasterised individual trees. In addition, they could virtually monitor and assess the tree communities.
They conclude that: ‘a UAV photogrammetric tree measurement system can be applied in ancient tree community surveys and even partial forestry surveys’.
Drones in forestry, a match made in the trees…
Drones in forestry is becoming more common all over the world. Drones are used as an affordable, quicker and accurate method of capturing data. Drones are able to monitor tree populations, landscapes and access hard to reach areas. Without the use of drones, these inspections would be timely and costly for organisations.
A decade ago, if researchers used UAVs for their work, they would have had to design their own UAV system or software. Recent advances in commercially available drones and associated technology means that there are options available for a whole range of products.
Together with forest preservation, drones could be used for sustainable commercial logging. This would allow management to conduct tree counts and estimate harvests without having to visit hard-to-reach and inconvenient areas on foot.
Organisations have hired drones for such tasks. This can turn out more costly than owning and flying the drones. With a some retraining, an existing employee could be taught to operate the drone. This is a small step that can save time and money. If you are wanting to become commercially trained to use drones, COPTRZ can help you.
You can see our UAV strategist Steve Blair talk about using Drones in Forestry in this webinar hosted by the Chartered Institute of Forestry below.
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