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Defra uses satellite data to monitor diseased trees


The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has begun a nationwide project using satellite data to map disease outbreaks among ash and oak trees.

It is working with geospatial data analytics company Rezatec to identify and map the species, then to add a disturbance layer to spot changes in their health status.

The project follows a successful pilot in Devon in 2017.

Sam Grant, statistician for plant health at Defra, said:“Following a small scale trial Defra has asked Rezatec to identify woodland ash and oak and monitor them for disease.

“Using satellite data analytics allows us to optimise our resources, as well as enabling us to be more proactive in combatting tree disease and increasing our public spend efficiency. Defra is pleased to be taking a lead in using the latest technologies to address the issues we face.”

Tim Vallings, chief commercial officer at Rezatec, said it had demonstrated an evidence based approach to accurate and cost-effective monitoring of the trees.

“For the first time, species maps can be used as a reference for targeting areas of most need and we are pleased to be expanding the project nationwide, providing Defra and the wider community at county council level with this ability,” he said.

Lethal threat

The health of ash and oak trees is important in forest and woodland areas, with ash dieback being lethal to many, and dealing with the threat creates a significant cost to Defra and county councils.

Rezatec said that by using satellite technology to accurately identify and locate affected trees, government can optimise the deployment of ground teams, sending them directly to the source of the problem. They can also remove affected trees that may become a hazard to the general public.

Image by David Wright, CC BY 2.0

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