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Bermuda: Restoring Native Ecosystems

Bermuda: Societal Action for Sustainability and Conservation

Our Environment Director, Katie Medcalf has co-authored an article in the CIEEM ‘In Practice’ journal on behalf of its Overseas Territories Special Interest Group. The article highlights two initiatives aimed at preserving biodiversity on Bermuda. Both engage with local people to protect against damaging development and help plant native tree species. You can read and download the article here.

Environment Systems has been working on projects in the British Overseas Territories such as Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, St Helena for over ten years and is currently working on a project focused on protected Ramsar sites in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Sphere Winter 2021-22

Sphere Winter 2021-22

Welcome

After three special editions of Sphere (Natural Capital, Net Zero and Biodiversity), specifically targeted at the COP26 climate summit, we thought now would be a good time to look back on what has been a very unusual year and pick out some of the highlights. Despite the pandemic, we have continued to thrive, albeit in a slightly different working environment, which has been refreshing and frustrating in equal measure. As we approach 2022, we are busier than ever with a wide range of consultancy projects across the world and, excitingly, our first experience with distinct products and services that customers can buy. This throws up new opportunities and everyone here at Environment Systems is embracing the challenge.

Contents

Hybrid Working and New Office
EO4cultivar, COP26 and the Paris Peace Forum
Blankney Estates
Data Services
Due Negligence

Hybrid Working and New Office

Although we have always had remote workers, prior to the pandemic the majority of our staff were based in Aberystwyth. When the pandemic sent us into lockdown in 2020 everyone was forced to work from home and within days everyone was working well.
Aberystwyth Office
Suffice to say our productivity was pretty good and home working became a bit of a hit, especially during the summer months. As time went by, staff were regularly canvassed, and it soon became pretty clear that there would not be a full return to full office working. Therefore, during the summer, we started making preparations for a transition.

We have reduced our office space in Aberystwyth, with the transition being completed in September. This includes a new server room, and a large office space complete with 10 ‘hot desks’, two meeting rooms and a quiet room. Staff that want to come to the office to work, or for a meeting, can now book a desk, which comes complete with a double monitor setup, keyboard, mouse and webcam. There’s even a standing desk. It’s early days but the new arrangements seem to be working well and this looks likely to be the new normal.

In addition to Aberystwyth, we are maintaining our project office in Harwell and have announced plans to open an Edinburgh office in 2022; watch this space for more details!

EO4cultivar, COP26 and the Paris Peace Forum

Most definitely one of the highlights of 2021 was participating in COP26 thanks to the success of the UK Space Agency funded EO4cultivar project, part of its International Partnership Programme (IPP). Just as the conference took place, we are entering a new commercialisation phase in Latin America, building out of our commercial hub in Colombia. This is an exciting time for our team with a suite of products, a new website, active presence on Facebook and Instagram, and exhibition stands at two major agricultural shows. We’ll be reporting more on this in the next issue of Sphere.

COP26
Jacqueline Parker far right at Cop26 – Pufferfish globes bottom left
At COP26 we took part in the ‘Earth Information for Climate Action: Perspectives from the UK Presidency’ plenary. Our Principal Consultant, Jacqueline Parker, joined the panel to provide valuable insights and learning gained from taking climate action through EO4cultivar. A wide range of questions came from the audience, and Jacqueline emphasised why increasing resilience to climate change is necessary; not only on productive agricultural land, but also in the surrounding more natural landscape that provides many of the resources on which agricultural production is dependent. Earth observation, she explained, helps to answer an important question when we are seeking to implement nature-based solutions to help address environmental issues, where to take action to get the best outcomes.

EO4cultivar was represented at another session at COP26, ‘In Space We Trust: Powering inclusive local climate action with space technology and human connections’. Jose Francisco Zuñiga, the president of ASBAMA, one of our project partners in Colombia, described how the banana sector now has the confidence in using satellite derived data for decision making in both agronomy and regional policy for sustainable land management.

Elsewhere in the Green and Blue zones, some of our work from around the world was showcased on Pufferfish globes, interactive globes that visitors to the conference could explore to learn about climate data and satellite solutions.

Steve Keyworth also went to a Scottish Government COP event linked to our Civtech project, with a reception in Edinburgh Castle followed by a full day of presentations and meetings in Glasgow.

Meanwhile, EO4cultivar was showcased through ‘Earth Observation for Resilient Agriculture,’ one of the 80 projects selected as ‘Solutions For Peace’ featured at the Paris Peace Forum.

Blankney Estates

Blankney is a long-established estate in the heart of Lincolnshire, with 14,000 acres of farmland growing a wide range of arable crops for both human and animal consumption. A subsidiary, The British Chlorophyll Company, produces chlorophyll products for the natural colours markets. In 2021, Environment Systems has been monitoring the grassland used for feedstock to provide regular data insights to help manage the crop.
Static dashboard
The feedback from this growing season has shown that the maps accurately display the logical variation and are actively helping them make in-field management decisions. Calibrating the maps by ground truthing with the use of their in-house laboratory, to show chlorophyll variation, leaf tissue and irrigation patterns, has given them a high degree of confidence. They have also helped pick up rapid growth and transient nutrient deficiency, as well as quantify the impact of soil variability for field selection and improve the return of investments and inputs.

“The experience of working with Environment Systems has been a good one, to be able to develop and confidently interpret the data we received and actually quantify what it meant was refreshing and beneficial to our grass management,” said Tim Harper from Blankney Estates.

Data Services

The capabilities of our Data Services continue to grow. Thanks to faster methods of accessing historical Sentinel data, our scaling ability has allowed us to process a 4-year backfill of both optical and radar data over a Caribbean island within a week.

Satellite data processing
Our Data Services team continues to produce impressive results
Last year we reported that we had surveyed and processed data from over a million fields. That sounds impressive but it was not very informative. When we got together recently we thought it would be better to be a bit more precise. The data captured and processed in 2021 from Sentinel satellites we calculated amounts to 462m km². Given the global land area is approximately 148m km² we were all pleasantly surprised. “What if we calculated the total for the amount of processed data that we can currently offer, both for this year and historically,” piped up one of the team. So we got to it and came up with a figure of over 1,000,000,000 km² which is 6.5 times the global land area.

There were smiles all round, certainly a highlight.

Due Negligence

Deforestation
Deforestation was the subject of a pledge by over 100 countries at COP26
Although we reported on this ground breaking project in the last edition of Sphere, when we were looking for the highlights of 2021, we reckoned this was one. The Due Negligence report was commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and prepared by 3Keel and Environment Systems. It presented an analysis of the potential consequences of the UK’s obligation which makes it mandatory for large companies to carry out due diligence to ensure that there is no illegal deforestation in their agricultural and forestry supply chains. The report drew a line in the sand because it concluded that it was likely that the regulations in the UK’s Environment Bill would have to be revisited, and that the way forward was not sustainable. What’s more, the first major deal announced at COP26 was a pledge by leaders from more than 100 countries to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. There may be a way forward after all. We shall have to see.

Pasture Optimisation Insight Workshop – 13th December 2021

A meeting hosted by the Innovative Farmers network, part of the Duchy Future Farming Programme, has been set up to explore the benefits and opportunities from improved pasture management to help inform the development of a new digital tool to support farmers as part of the exciting new PASTORAL project. It will take place on Monday 13th December from 12.30 to 2pm on Microsoft Teams. You can book here.
cows in pasture
Quality, productive pasture is essential for efficient livestock production. Current methods do not accurately reflect field quality, nor likely future growth under climate change, limiting accuracy of pasture management decisions. Livestock farmers are invited to join the PASTORAL team for a 90-minute session to share their current pasture management practices and explore the range of data and metrics that could be useful to their farm business. During the workshop participants will:

  • Discuss current pasture monitoring methods
  • Explore priorities for farm businesses for data and metrics to support on-farm decision making for pasture management and any current gaps
  • Identify ideas for measuring environmental performance alongside biomass
  • Share an overview of the PASTORAL project and how to get involved

PASTORAL is a partnership project funded by Innovate UK to develop a digital tool to support farmers to increase farm productivity and carbon efficiency through improved pasture performance and management. It aims to develop a digital solution that can deliver weekly data and insights on current and projected grass biomass and to quantify carbon budgets. The tool will use satellite data to map and forecast at field scale in order to support on-farm decision making on stocking rates, forage budgeting, cutting dates and future planning. PASTORAL will provide weekly information through a co-designed platform to increase farm productivity and carbon efficiency. It is led by Environment Systems Ltd in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and the Soil Association.

Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Cotswolds National Landscape is a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is made up of 204,270 hectares spanning six counties and a variety of landscapes. In this pilot project, funded by Natural England, the aim was to investigate how an integrated approach using offline ecosystem service mapping together with an online dashboard could help this and other AONBs / National Landscapes in meeting their nature recovery reporting requirements. This process is often compromised by heterogeneous or incomplete data.

Environment Systems was tasked with creating the ecosystem service maps using its SENCE ecosystem service modelling tool.
The ecosystem service modelling focused on four services: carbon storage, water quality regulation, water flow regulation (natural flood management), and farming. Additionally, nature recovery networks were modelled to highlight areas of particular biodiversity value. Working closely with project partner Triage, a data dashboard was conceived which could support nature recovery reporting and form the basis for monitoring moving forwards.

Using the web-based data dashboard implemented by Triage, the data can be viewed, queried, and summarised by a wide range of stakeholders without requiring the user to have Geographical Information System expertise. The data is presented in a
range of tabs (Habitats, Nature Recovery, and each of the ecosystem services, which are in turn broken down into their component parts (e.g. stock and opportunities for most of the ecosystem services).

Cotswold AONB dashboard
Cotswold AONB dashboard displaying the carbon stock map
Each tab is accompanied by text explaining the data to the user, with additional technical detail available in a separate report. The dashboard not only visualises the data in a map view, but also enables the user to create summary statistics by different criteria. The data can be filtered by broad habitats and landscape character areas (LCAs). Three broad landscapes were formed within the Cotswolds by grouping the 19 LCAs, and local authority areas. Setting any of these filters updates both the map, associated bar charts, and all other figures presented on the dashboard.

The carbon stock dashboard shows the values produced on a by-pixel basis, but these are then converted to a format more suitable for reporting. On the dashboard, this information is converted to the actual storage in tonnes of Carbon, so that, when filtering, for example, to a broad habitat the bar charts will show the total amount of carbon stored within that habitat.

The project has demonstrated that the integration of ecosystem service modelling with the online dashboard was particularly helpful to Cotswolds staff, as it meant that data could be summarised flexibly to match reporting areas without requiring any in-house data manipulation.

Due Negligence Report

The UK’s draft deforestation due diligence regulation, which is part of the Environment Bill currently making its way through Parliament, would make it mandatory for large companies to carry out due diligence to ensure that there is no illegal deforestation in their agricultural and forestry supply chains. However, legal deforestation and conversion of natural land for agriculture could continue. What are the implications of this?

This Due Negligence report, commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund and prepared by 3Keel and Environment Systems, presents an analysis of the potential consequences of the UK’s proposed due diligence obligation. Legality would be defined by producer country regulations. Clearly the issue of deforestation has huge implications for existing carbon stores and biodiversity.

Cerrado Brazil
Cerrado, Brazil – a mixed landscape, the result of deforestation and agriculture
The report features two case studies – soy from Brazil and palm oil from Indonesia. Its overarching finding is that a due diligence law based on whether deforestation is illegal according to producer country laws will not de-link the UK supply chains from deforestation, and it will be difficult for companies to comply with and for the government to enforce it.

The report had a number of key findings:

  1. A regulation based on excluding illegal deforestation may only have limited impact on the overall conversion of natural land associated with UK supply chains.
  2. A regulation based on illegal deforestation will be harder to implement and enforce than one based on all (legal and illegal) deforestation and conversion, due to the complexity of legal structures in producing countries, the variation in what is defined as legal between countries, and the lack of comprehensive, publicly available data on legality.
  3. Focusing on forests alone, rather than all ecosystems, puts those other ecosystems and the people and species that live in, and depend on them, at risk.
  4. Getting the right model of due diligence and effective penalties for non- compliance matters.

A question this poses, for example, is how much deforestation is likely to happen in the UK’s Brazilian soy supply chain by 2030? Depending on the rate of deforestation and conversion in Brazil under the different scenarios, conversion of 36-59,000 hectares of natural vegetation would be directly attributable to UK supply chains between 2021 and 2030. This vegetation stores 18- 30 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to between 4-7% of the UK’s current annual domestic Greenhouse Gas emissions. The impact on biodiversity is dramatic. Out of 2,462 species of plants and animals present in the biome, a quarter of them are on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species, a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. The implications for the ecosystems and the future wellbeing of the species that thrive within them are stark.

With this detailed analysis available, policy makers have the evidence to draw up regulations that will work effectively. The WWF Due Negligence Report is a significant call to action with recommendations for the UK Government to strengthen its legislation. If this is acted upon, supply chain companies will have an effective and auditable system with which they can work. As COP26 President, the UK would also be in a stronger position to encourage others to do likewise. Failure to act would be more than just a missed opportunity.

You can read and download the report here.