Greenspace Accessibility

The West of England Nature Partnership (WENP) is working to enhance cultural ecosystem services in the West of England by ensuring that the value of accessible greenspace is implicit in decision making across spatial planning, public health and economic development. We were recently asked by WENP to establish current greenspace accessibility for the region. There is growing evidence of the physical and mental health benefits of green spaces. Research shows that access to greenspace is associated with better health outcomes, and that income-related inequality in health is less pronounced where people have access to greenspace.

Greenspace with catchments
Catchments (light green) show regions within 300m of green space (dark green) access points, calculated using the road network

On this project we took a range of existing greenspace datasets, some of which had known access points. Where the access points were not mapped, we produced modelled access points using the Ordnance Survey Integrated Transport Network (ITN). We also used the ITN to produce separate ‘walkable’ road networks for urban and rural areas, based on the road category, how busy the road is likely to be, and whether the road is likely to have a pavement. For example a busy B-road in an urban area might only be walkable if it had a pavement whereas a B-road in a rural area might be walkable simply because it carries much less traffic. We then ran a routing analysis to identify all of the areas falling within a 300m travel distance of a greenspace, producing catchment areas applicable to each. The result is spatial data that will enable WENP to carry out further analysis on greenspace accessibility and identify areas that currently have no, or poor access.

From Imagery to Data

The insights that satellite data can deliver for agriculture are hugely valuable but making those insights accessible is not always straightforward for the people who might really benefit from them. We have recently demonstrated, as part of a national trial, the capability to deliver data insights in a simple data dashboard.

Intelligence dashboard
Stats can be presented in a simple business intelligence dashboard

In this example NDVI satellite imagery was supplied by Environment Systems Data Services. This 10m resolution product was used for each field for the 2017/18 season on a farm that produces winter wheat, canary seed, spring beans and and oil seed rape. This demonstrates both wide area coverage and the availability of weekly data from Environment Systems Data Services. 2017/18 season field statistics derived from both NDVI and radar satellite data were presented in a simplified business intelligence dashboard to demonstrate the capabilities for tracking and comparing field performance.

Near real time satellite data availability and analyses are now enabling growers to identify patterns and trends helping with both future planning of crop rotations and risk management.

Drought and Flood Mitigation in Uganda

Agriculture is a major sector of Uganda’s economy accounting for the majority of the country’s exports and employment. This is partly due to Uganda’s warm tropical climate with plenty of rainfall and sunshine.

However, there are a number of threats to Uganda’s agriculture economy, which have implications for the ability of the country to meet the growing demand for food, compete in national and international markets, and increase productivity. These major threats include:

  • Climate change affecting the onset and length of the growing season, and increasing the frequency and severity of extreme events such as droughts and floods (Figure 1)
  • Biological risks (pests and disease) often exacerbated by climate change
  • Logistical and infrastructure risks, where farmers lack sufficient storage capacity and/or suitable road networks to get their crops to market
  • Market risks such as price fluctuations; a result of many influences including weather conditions
  • Political and security threats, for example cattle raiding, the influx of refugees and changes in land rights to name just a few
crop of beans in Karamoja, Uganda
A farmer tends to his crop of beans in Karamoja, Uganda, an area vulnerable to the effects of droughts.

The Drought and Flood Mitigation Service (DFMS) aims to help decision makers in Uganda address some of these threats. One way in which this is achieved is using Earth Observation (EO) data.

EO provides a means to assess and monitor agriculture from local to national scales. It is a powerful tool providing both current and historical spatial information on the environment, and is particularly valuable for rural and remote areas.

To demonstrate the power of EO for agriculture, Environment Systems has been working with Kakira Sugar (one of the major sugarcane growing companies in Uganda). Given that Uganda is one of the largest producers of sugar in East Africa, any data that informs on the state of the crop will enable sugar producers to make more informed decisions when growing sugarcane, safeguarding it’s production for national and international consumption.

Kakira Sugar Estate Uganda
Sugarcane growing on the Kakira estate

Sugarcane itself is a tall perennial grass that can grow two to six metres tall and requires a good supply of water. Typically, sugarcane is grown on a plantation surrounding a processing plant. Sugarcane can also be found in areas surrounding the plantation, grown by communities and individuals. These are known as outgrower farmers. This agriculture practice is seen at Kakira’s main estate.

sugar cane- kakira estate, Uganda
Kakira Sugar’s main estate (outlined) surrounded by outgrowers who also grow sugarcane.

Environment Systems are now engaging with Kakria in order to understand the agricultural practices that are employed (e.g. planting of different crop varieties, application of fertiliser etc.) and how such practices can be monitored from satellite imagery. Ultimately, we are helping Kakira to improve their decision making when it comes to planting, applying fertiliser or herbicide, irrigation and harvesting. Such insight will reduce their inputs, produce less waste and increase their yields.

Natural Capital Accounting

SoNaRR (State of Natural Resources Report) commissioned by the Welsh Government is country-wide assessment of the health and resilience of ecosystems and the first assessment of the extent to which Wales is sustainably managing its natural resources. Environment Systems was involved both in a pilot mapping project and subsequently in creating opportunities mapping which develops the evidence for Area Statements.

SoNaRR reported that the full value of natural resources and ecosystems were not fully considered in decision making and also concluded that new tools and techniques would be required to understand the value of the contribution that ecosystems make, sometimes referred to as natural capital accounting. By providing valuations of natural capital, decision makers can take better account of the environment in their plans to allocate resources, to develop and promote well being and the growth of the economy. Natural capital accounts present the value of the environment in an accounting format that is familiar to business and policy leaders enabling environmental issues to be considered alongside economic effects when gauging the feasibility of actions.

Earlier this year NRW (Natural Resources Wales) commissioned a feasibility study from Vivid Economics with Environment Systems as a partner. The objective of this study was to develop strategic thinking, a framework and options for progressing natural capital approaches, especially natural capital accounting, including the identification of appropriate data sets and methods. There was a particular emphasis on understanding the requirements of users and the future uses of accounts in the context of local scale that the Area Statements work within.
natural capital accounting tools
The table above summarises the features of some selected natural resource accounting tools. The tools were appraised for their potential added value beyond the features of the existing programme of NRW natural capital work, especially NRW’s SoNaRR stock and opportunity mapping.

The results of the work are enabling NRW to build on natural capital approaches in its delivery of the requirements of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, in particular Area Statements, and in its work more widely. This will enable NRW to take natural capital accounting forward in a targeted way that works best for Wales.

Trees Outside Woodland

Sometimes we get involved in projects with a large research element. Current work for the Scottish Government and Forestry Commission Scotland is an example. It focuses on determining how the Scottish Government can use remote sensing technology to assess the amount, location and distribution of trees outside areas classified as Scottish woodlands.

trees that fall outside woodland
Trees are a valuable Scottish resource, mapping their location outside woodlands is a challenge
Forestry Commission Scotland monitors woodland and produces statistics and information on woodlands over 0.5 hectares and an annual map is publically available. This information is used to inform management and investment within the forest sector that contributes £1bn to the Scottish economy, and also informs a number of other environmental projects. However there is only limited information available on smaller areas of trees, not found in classified woodland areas and are less than 0.5 hectare, such as lone trees and hedgerows. This leaves a significant evidence gap, weakening Scotland’s capacity to account for its carbon stocks accurately, plan and control plant health outbreaks, to plan for urban trees impact on air quality and to plan effectively for new woodland creation and woodland expansion.

The availability of new remote sensing technologies offers the prospect of being able to quantify and map these tree features and to fill the evidence gap. In our research we are investigating a suite of datasets representing different sensors (e.g. radar vs optical) and resolutions, examining their ability to detect lone trees and small stands of woodlands not included in the National Forest Inventory.

Within the project we are developing a test methodology for determining the best mix of remote sensing technologies, their practical accuracy and cost effectiveness plus recommendations for the way forward.

Mapping for policy, recovery and resilience

Darwin Plus, sometimes referred to as the Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund, is open to any organisations that wish to embark on a project which will benefit one or more of the British Overseas Territories by protecting and enhancing their biodiversity or addressing wider environment or climate-related issues.

This project is the result of a joint bid by Environment Systems, The Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), National Parks Trust of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

The project will provide evidence to develop policy to aid post-hurricane environmental recovery and enhance future resilience to natural disasters. It will use satellite data to map and model the marine and terrestrial environment in the TCI and BVI, both before and after hurricanes Maria and Irma which caused so much devastation in 2017.

The project will share experience and learning to develop both island groups’ expertise in relevant techniques and be integrated closely with other UK Government supported projects in the BVI and TCI.

The Turks & Caicos – this low mainly flat limestone island group has extensive marshes and mangrove swamps and over 128 square miles of beach front
Ecosystem goods and services, derived from biodiversity, are crucial to the islands’ economies, supporting tourism, food provision and providing protection against the effects of extreme weather events. The natural environment is susceptible to damage from both human activities and natural disasters such as hurricane-generated storm surges and flooding. The importance of protecting these natural assets has been brought into sharp focus by the recent hurricane damage and the impact on the islands’ economies.

A major part of this project will focus on building resilience. This will be achieved by building the capacity of the island governments to use remote sensing outputs to undertake detailed mapping of terrestrial and marine environments themselves, both to evaluate hurricane impacts and highlight opportunities for habitat restoration. Three workshops will be held in the islands, with a further workshop programmed to take place in our head office. The project will run until early 2020.

Vulnerability Mapping in the British Overseas Territories

In 2016 Environment Systems carried out a modelling exercise to assess the vulnerability of five UK Overseas Territories (OTs) in the Caribbean to storm surge and flooding events, their impact on infrastructure and human life. The OTs included in this exercise were Anguilla, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Tristan da Cunha, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos.

Anguilla Storm Surge
This map shows the potential damage risk of storm surge on marine and terrestrial areas over Anguilla
This work has been brought into sharp focus by the extreme 2017 hurricane season (Maria and Irma). The new project on which we are now embarked uses pre and post hurricane satellite imagery to validate the model on Anguilla with a second phase of work applying that model to the BVI.

Part of the work consists of creating an inland flood risk model which is focused on the conditions and parameters of the ground surface. In addition, we have created a model that maps the extent of the storm surge. This storm surge risk model was generated and scored using Environment Systems’ own SENCE methodology. It takes into account prevailing conditions on the sea floor, the effect Natural Capital such as coral reefs, mangroves and forest can have on counteracting the energy in the waves. The validation was undertaken through expert interpretation of very high-resolution imagery together with data collected from news and social media accounts often accompanied by images of damage extents.

The high-level purpose of the work is to generate data for governance and policy but it goes far beyond that to practical measures such as ensuring that emergency vehicles are strategically parked and evacuation areas are suitably located and notified. In addition, the models help indicate areas for action for example for tree planting, future planning proposals and help in landscape design. The models also inform natural capital accounting by placing a monetary value on natural assets that stimulate tourism for example.