Projects

Oat Growth Guide

Demand for high quality UK oats for food use continues to increase, but research has indicated that there is a yield gap of approximately 4 t/ha between average and best on-farm oat yields.

To ensure growers and agronomists have the best available information, a consortium of leading industry and academic partners came together to form the Opti-Oat project. Under the leadership of PepsiCo and with co-funding from Innovate UK and BBSRC this project has developed the first UK Oat Growth Guide.

Oat growth guide

This Oat Growth Guide is designed to increase understanding of winter and spring oats through crop growth and development benchmarks, with the aim of improving yield and quality to deliver a sustainable supply and maximise grower returns.

You can view and download the Oat Growth Guide here.

Enhancing Environmental Protection

In early March Environment Systems Ltd ran a workshop involving staff from the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) and the National Parks Trust of the British Virgin Islands (BVI). Delegates studied techniques to uncover the hidden value that the environment is providing in terms of essential services, such as water, food and flood resilience. They also learnt how to explore environmental indicators and how they can be developed to monitor any changes that impact long-term environmental sustainability.

Environmental Protection Workshop
Staff from Turks & Caicos Islands Government and the National Parks Trust of the British Virgin Islands attended the workshop run by Environment Systems

During the workshop delegates learned how to use new types of data such as satellite imagery to analyse, monitor and assess environmental risks. This will enable them to identify opportunities in the future, that both safeguard and enhance the islands’ environments and ensure their resilience. This has been brought into particular focus by the recent hurricanes. New IT equipment has also been delivered as part of this project to ensure its long-term impact. The staff involved will benefit from the continuous and up-to-date stream of Sentinel satellite data delivered direct to their computers.

Now that staff are able to generate the mapping and modelling themselves, the islands can really start to benefit from these new techniques and sources of data. This will also improve the capability of officials by enabling them to present evidence in their day-to-day work. The workshop was funded by the UK’s Darwin Plus program.

Agri-Environment Monitoring

We have been working as part of a consortium with CCRI (Countryside and Community Research Institute) and LUC, an environmental consultancy. The consortium has recently been successful in winning three agri-environment monitoring and evaluation projects under the Defra/Natural England ESME framework. Agri-environment schemes are important because they set out to provide funding to farmers and land managers to farm in a way that supports biodiversity and enhances the landscape.

Patterns of conversion from grassland to cultivation
Field parcels with 2018 CROME classes (top) and May 2018 Sentinel-2 image (bottom). Parcels show different patterns of grassland retention and conversion of grassland to cultivation

In one of these projects we are looking at SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). These sites are ‘special’ because of their habitats, species or geology. Agri-environment schemes have an important role to play in ensuring that they are maintained and protected. SSSIs contribute to a government goal of restoring 75% of over a million hectares of terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to a favourable condition securing their wildlife value for the long term. SSSIs represent some of the best of England’s biodiversity sites and it is important to Defra and Natural England to be able to evaluate the contribution that agri-environment schemes make in delivering for biodiversity when they occur on SSSIs. Our task was therefore to evaluate the evidence of change in condition, assess the evidence of the relationship between agri-environment schemes and changes in SSSI condition and understand what motivates owners and occupiers to manage their SSSIs.

One of the other projects won under this framework seeks to quantify the retention and loss of grassland established through ‘arable reversion.’ Arable reversion occurs when farmers are paid a subsidy to lay aside arable land to grassland in the interests of biodiversity, enhancing landscape quality and conserving wildlife. This task uses the existing ‘CROME’ crop map of England and other data and compares it against current Sentinel satellite data, available directly from our own Data Services. Through spatial analysis it is possible to identify those parcels which have reverted to ploughing. When asked, farmers suggest that they will maintain arable land converted to grassland once the subsidy has ended but analysis suggests that this is not always the case. Understanding the motivation behind these decisions is important.

LANDMAP

LANDMAP is an all-Wales digital landscape resource where landscape characteristics, are recorded and evaluated in a nationally consistent data set. LANDMAP spatial datasets are named as follows the Geological Landscape, Landscape Habitats, Visual & Sensory, Historic Landscape and Cultural Landscape. Importantly since it was established LANDMAP has been used by Local Planning Authorities in numerous areas of activity from Local Development Plans to Local Landscape Character Assessments. In short it has become indispensable and continues to evolve.

LANDMAP all Wales
This map shows broad landscape classifications for the whole of Wales

Environment Systems has been contributing to LANDMAP for over thirteen years, specifically in creating the landscape habitat layers, sitting on the LANDMAP steering group as Landscape Habitats expert and helping to design and implement the LANDMAP monitoring system. At the beginning of 2018 we carried out further work to fill in gaps in the data for Cardiff and Swansea. At the end of 2018 we embarked on a project to create a new Cultural Service layer, a response in part to recent legislation, such as the Well Being and Future Generations Act (2016) and the Environment Act (Wales). Cultural benefits are often perceived as being difficult to measure or access information about, as a result they are often overlooked and are not always integrated into decision making. This omission reduces understanding about the benefits that people gain from the natural environment. For this project we drew data from all the existing LANDMAP data layers, statswales.gov.uk data on nationality and Welsh language, National Park boundaries, dark sky reserves, Wales tranquil areas and Wales Heritage sites. The new classifications resulted in a number of new maps and associated data that make up the start of the new Cultural Service layer. This is the first phase of a multi-phase project which will result in a rich set of information about the cultural heritage of Wales. Future phases might include collecting data about or from communities themselves.

In addition to this work we have been working on a LANDMAP Landscape Habitat assessment for the whole of Wales and for the six NRW operational areas. This delivers a statistical analysis with maps and graphs, essentially to make the LANDMAP data more accessible for professionals.

New Coastal Monitoring Projects

Coastal monitoring frameworks to map coastal and terrestrial habitats along the English coastline were established in 2012. The maps are used by Local Authorities, the Environment Agency and Natural England as part of a long term program for operational and strategic shoreline management and also contribute to reporting and monitoring requirements for Natura 2000 sites. Specifically they contribute to:

  • Identification and quantification of regional coastal change
  • The assessment of losses and gains for the Environment Agency’s Regional Habitat Creation Programme
  • Identification and strategic consideration of coastal flood and erosion risks
Change analysis
Change analysis, 1946 v 2017

Since becoming a preferred supplier in 2012 Environment Systems has carried out projects in the North West (2014), the South West (2015-16) and the South East (2017). In 2018/19 we are delivering re-surveys of the South West including the Isles of Scilly. More recently we have won the contract for the terrestrial and intertidal ecological mapping of a section of the North East coast running from the Scottish border to Flamborough Head. The project covers the mapping of all coastal and terrestrial priority habitats from aerial photography captured in 2017 and aerial photography due to be captured in 2019. In addition we will be creating a new habitat map of the same area from a dataset of black and white orthorectified photography created in the late 1940s by the RAF. This will enable the authority to assess the change that has taken place over the last seventy years.

Drone Data Capture

UAS/UAV or as some prefer to call them, drones, are providing us with a significant source of data primarily for agricultural applications. Over the past 5 years we have developed an impressive capability of data analytics based on the use of rotary and fixed wing platforms, multiple sensors and data processing workflows. In the UK Environment Systems has an established network of qualified and agriculturally focused operators that regularly carry out targeted flights and capture data to our own tight specifications and quality assurance procedures. We help our clients select the appropriate platform and sensor solution to meet their precise requirements.

Depending on the platform, flying at heights of up to 400 feet drones can capture up to 100ha per flight and depending on the sensors, at a ground sampled distance (GSD) of 3cm. In other words very high resolution. The sensors themselves vary too. RGB sensors deliver 3cm GSD while the multispectral sensors required for detailed crop analysis deliver 10cm GSD.

Trial plot analysis
Combining very high-resolution imagery from different sensors enables detailed data analysis and performance related indicators to help improve yield and optimise inputs

We have been extensively involved in agricultural crop trials, weed mapping, crop growth stage monitoring and modelling for yield forecasting. Many of our clients have benefited from the use of high resolution vegetation indices such as such as OSAVI, NDVI, NDRE, and GDVI for monitoring growth and development of crops at a sub-trial plot or sub-field level.

Weed or invasive species mapping such as black-grass, provides a good example of what can be achieved. We have now developed a suite of algorithms and an operational workflow for black-grass detection in winter wheat. Initially developed at trial plot level, the algorithms have been fine-tuned and scaled to function at a field-scale. The algorithms have an operational ‘sweet spot’, where best results are achieved when the black-grass is heading over the crop canopy at a significant density so that it can be detected from the imagery.

These data can be made available to suit a wide variety of farm management and other application software platforms.

Capability, Suitability and Climate Programme for Wales

This three year project which is led by Welsh Government seeks to develop and improve the agricultural land classification model for the whole of Wales. It will assess the suitability of land for over one hundred different crops under 18 projected climate change scenarios. The project is being carried out by a consortium of Environment Systems, Cranfield University, and ADAS.

Initially Environment Systems will be focused on improving the accuracy of the underlying soil data. This will be achieved by modelling the regional distribution of certain soil series types which are known to be under – or over-graded in the Predictive ALC (Agricultural Land Classification) model. We will be analysing features such as pond density, rock outcrops and topographic setting to establish relationships with depth to impermeable clay, and total soil depth, and combining this with image analysis of vegetation characteristics, which will be tested with targeted soil sampling.

In a previous project for Welsh Government, Environment Systems assessed the suitability of areas for the planting of new potatoes. In this suitability modelling pilot, we modelled wind exposure, salt spray and frost pocket locations, and combined this information with a range of other biophysical information to demonstrate variations in land suitability for growing new potatoes. The current project will access additional Met Office data to produce more detailed wind exposure, salt spray and frost models, and apply these to the suitability modelling of over 100 crops.

Areas for new potatoes
Areas for new potatoes modelled using new ALC data

By identifying the areas that provide suitable growing conditions for different crop varieties and highlighting crop suitability under future climate scenarios, the Welsh Government, farmers, public and private sector organisations will be able to make more informed decisions on the use of land. This will help farmers to think about the future and adapt to changing circumstances. It will give Government a greater understanding of the constraints and opportunities of our natural environment and help develop informed policy.

Three engagement events are being run in early 2019 to inform interested stakeholders about the project, one for the general public, one for Defra and associates and one for Natural Resources Wales and associates.

This project has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.