Sphere Newsletter

This category is for articles linked through the eSphere newsletter

Sphere Spring 2022

Welcome

In Spring 2022, things do seem to be getting back to some semblance of normal. Hybrid working is now the new normal but I can report that we are out and about once more, with trips across the UK, to the Caribbean and Colombia in recent weeks. I can also report that we are as busy as ever and we are recruiting in a number of areas. In this edition of Sphere, we cover everything from coastal monitoring to future agriculture, and we have a fresh influx of new starters to boost our capacity, experience and expertise.

Contents

Future Agriculture: Land Suitability for Trees and Permanent Crops
Building Capacity to Deliver Nature Recovery Networks for Northern Ireland
Coastal Monitoring
Peatland Restoration Portal Presented at CivTech Demo Day
Crop Suitability Report Published
New Starters

Future Agriculture: Land Suitability for Trees and Permanent Crops

SENCE, our land suitability modelling technology, is proving to be a valuable tool for future agriculture assessment. Trees and permanent crops require long-term investment, so in a changing climate it is important to ascertain the long-term suitability of land for their production. Using SENCE, we have been working in the Caribbean to provide scientific evidence to guide land acquisition reconnaissance for a forest production enterprise. Our work established the biophysical suitability (climatic, topographic and soil characteristics) of land for four different tree species, modelled at national scale. Using different climate scenarios stretching through to 2080, we located areas that will remain suitable for each tree species in a changing climate.

future agriculture
This map shows the long-range suitability for tree planting on optimal soils
The analysis revealed that extensive areas would become of limited suitability, or totally unsuitable, for some of the tree species due largely to a predicted reduction in rainfall. The assessment went on to factor in other considerations, narrowing the search locations to wooded areas with optimal soil types, as well as avoiding the main areas of productive agricultural land and protected areas.

Next steps include rapid site assessments using satellite imagery to provide comparative information on prospective sites quickly and at low cost. In-depth assessment of preferred sites and their surroundings can be supported by the following sustainability metrics:

  • Carbon storage estimates & their market value (current and future projected)
  • Biodiversity value (with habitats identified, such as endemic forests)
  • Green and blue corridors, tree cover within fields and vegetation productivity
  • Surface water regulation and flood mitigation opportunities/sources of soil erosion risk
  • Places where nature-based actions (like tree planting) can improve water regulation, benefit biodiversity and reduce soil erosion risk in the local landscape.


These approaches show the value of SENCE to evidence investment decisions and help deliver company sustainability goals.

Building Capacity to Deliver Nature Recovery Networks for Northern Ireland

Habitat loss and fragmentation are factors driving biodiversity decline on a global scale. Northern Ireland (NI) ranks 12th worst in the world for biodiversity loss, with 11% of vegetation species at threat. Environment Systems, on behalf of Ulster Wildlife and in partnership with the National Trust, RSPB and the Woodland Trust, has created Nature Recovery Networks (NRN’s) across the whole of Northern Ireland, as well as local-scale case studies in Ards & North Down Council and the Belfast area.The first of its kind for Northern Ireland, these data were created with the aim of providing evidence that can help steer momentum towards conserving and improving biodiversity in Northern Ireland.

Deciduous woodland
Network maps for deciduous woodland in Belfast showing the national network (left) and local network (right)
The maps produced for the project show the areas of primary habitats and associated habitats (habitats which are found in mosaic with the primary habitat type, that support species movement throughout the landscape), as well as areas that could be restored to strengthen each habitat network. These opportunity areas were identified based on soil type, existing habitat cover, and proximity to areas of primary habitat. The opportunity areas are divided into different classes (Network Enhancement Zones, Network Expansion Zone, Fragmentation Action Zone), which assist with prioritising and selecting the best locations for habitat restoration and recreation, in order to increase the resilience of existing habitats and maximise the effectiveness of the action.

NRNs were created for 20 habitats at a national scale, and for 14 habitats at a local scale. The NRNs were also combined to produce four grouped networks (grassland, wetland, woodland and coastal networks) at national and local scales. The local network maps complement the national network datasets but incorporate more locally focused data and local conservation priorities (e.g., by incorporating small urban habitat features), and provide more detail on habitat networks and opportunities at a finer scale. For example, the local network of deciduous woodland in Belfast shows urban street trees and their importance in connecting areas of deciduous woodland, as well as supporting biodiversity in urban areas.

30 by 30 ambition
30 by 30 is a global initiative for governments to classify 30% of Earth’s land and sea area as protected by 2030. NI has over 1.3 million hectares, which means over 400,000 ha would need to be protected. Our work on this project indicates that 27.1% of NI is primary habitat, just short of meeting the 30% goal. Much of these primary habitat areas are not currently protected, but protecting all of the existing habitat fragments may not be the best way to protect and enhance ecological resilience; for example, if habitat patches are geographically isolated, they are more likely to be vulnerable to disturbances and extinctions. Even if all areas of primary habitat became protected it would still be necessary to look to restore or create new primary habitats – our work has indicated that this is entirely possible.

National habitat network of deciduous woodland
National Habitat Network map showing areas of deciduous woodland and the opportunities for restoration. The map illustrates how fragmented woodlands are in Northern Ireland. There are many opportunities to plant trees and it is hoped that further work will explore how these areas can be prioritised

Additional input datasets are required to support decision making when choosing which areas to prioritise. NRNs alone do not provide the solution and need to be supplemented with other data. Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSI’s) are an important network of protected sites that could serve as a starting point for identifying new priority sites for protection, in order to strengthen ecological connectivity between existing priority sites.

Coastal Monitoring

In 2012, Environment Systems became a preferred supplier of ecological mapping for the coastal monitoring frameworks for the North West, North East, South West and South East of England. Since that time, we have carried out projects across all of these areas. The habitat mapping component of the monitoring is undertaken to provide freely available coastal and terrestrial habitat extent data for use by Local Authorities, the Environment Agency, Natural England and other stakeholders. They help to improve the understanding of the current situation, and how change is occurring in these dynamic environments. The data can also be used to predict how factors such as climate change, driven by sea level rises, could impact flood risk and biodiversity.

The monitoring takes place every 5-8 years to ensure that changes are monitored effectively and that new improved processes and analyses can be brought to bear. Most recently, we have returned to the South East, an area that stretches from the Isle of Grain in the east to Portland Bill in the west. The project ran for nine months and included ground surveys over ten randomly selected areas to assess the coverage of vegetation and different habitat types. The ground survey data were compared to the habitat attribution in the map data, mostly generated through air photo interpretation, in order to gauge the accuracy of the dataset as a whole, and on a class-by-class basis.

Coastal monitoring
Example of change in cliff (SR0) and intertidal underboulder (LR4) habitat distribution between 2013 (left) and 2019 (right), overlain against 2019/2020 aerial imagery
The resulting map data provides an extremely detailed representation of habitat distribution throughout the project area, which includes particularly detailed mapping of fine-scale features such as hedgerows and saltmarsh, as well as fine-scale definition of other intertidal habitats such as shingle and sand/mudflat.

Coastal environments are very dynamic by their nature, and frequent monitoring of these areas is invaluable for identifying trends and changes that need to be dealt with, such as threats to important habitats and species, and flood risk for coastal communities. One recommendation that has resulted from this survey is that algal communities, not currently included within the scope of the ecological mapping, should be included in future monitoring. A good example is nutrient enrichment, particularly in the Solent region, where increased nutrient loading is a key risk to the condition of protected sites such as the Solent Maritime SAC. This has been cited as a reason for delaying new residential developments.

Peatland Restoration Portal Presented at CivTech Demo Day

Environment Systems presented its solution to the CivTech challenge – “How can technology help us identify peatland restoration sites that will optimise costs and benefits?” at the latest CivTech Demo Day on the 8th February in Edinburgh.

In good condition, Scotland’s peatlands offer a fantastic natural carbon store, equivalent to a third of the Amazon rainforest, and an excellent nature-based solution to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. The Scottish Government wants to understand where to undertake peatland restoration in order to maximise all the benefits that derive from it.

Scottish peatland
Peatland which makes up over 20% of Scottish land cover is an important carbon store and home to a range of rare and important wildlife
While peatlands cover 20% of Scotland, around 80% of them are in poor condition and are actually emitting greenhouse gases. Restoring them is therefore a key plank of the Scottish Government’s climate change plan and Scotland’s response to the climate emergency.

Our solution, the Peatland Restoration Portal, has been developed in partnership with the Tweed Forum Ltd and Land & Habitats Ltd. Using Environment Systems’ SENCE natural capital evaluation tool, plus satellite data analytics, this online tool will provide area-based peatland restoration prioritisation to enable policy makers, land owners, contractors and the finance community to pinpoint areas of peatland requiring restoration. This will help Scotland transition to net zero and restore one of its most valuable landscapes and significant carbon stores.

The data in our portal aligns with the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Peatland Code, the developing standard for peatland restoration, to give peatland investment confidence. There is no other solution available on the market that models the breadth of environmental issues in relation to peatland, whilst at the same time being updated with the latest data for monitoring the sites.

Our user base in the Scottish Government will provide a strong anchor to the service. In addition to this, we will charge our target customers a monthly subscription to access premium features.

We have committed to maintaining free access for individual landowners. This will provide recurring revenue from organisations who are monetising peatland restoration and, by keeping landowner access free, we keep the restoration opportunities i.e., the ‘deal flow,’ high.

The Environment Systems presentation can be viewed here.

Crop Suitability Report Published

In the Summer 2020 edition of Sphere, we reported on a project we were working on which set out to model the land suitability in Wales for 118 crops under nine projected climate change scenarios, as well as under present day conditions. The work on this project was completed in 2021 and the report has just been published.

The project included a variety of crops common to Wales and the UK, as well as crops which are novel to Wales. It included cereals, row crops, horticultural crops, orchard crops, tree crops and specialist crops. The report describes crop suitability modelling undertaken to show how, for each crop, the spatial extent of suitable ground changes with the climate in the different scenarios.

Wheat growing
Overall suitability for wheat grown on a commercial basis across nine climate change scenarios
Although the models show decreases in the area of available land for crop cultivation on a commercial basis, the non-commercial tree suitability models show that many tree species will still be able to grow throughout the country, and continue to provide important ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, carbon storage, and supporting biodiversity.

The report provides important evidence for policy makers and the agricultural industry as the future is considered. This will be a valuable source of information as Wales prepares to meet the effects of changes in climate, growing conditions, the extent and distribution of crop cultivation, and supporting infrastructure. The information can also help to foster public engagement and understanding of the issues, and will contribute to the creation of policy decisions that are likely to have a substantial impact on Welsh landscapes as we know them today.

This work formed part of a wider three-year project which was led by the Welsh Government and included Environment Systems, Cranfield University and ADAS. The project formed part of the Welsh Government response to climate change.

You can view and download the project here.

New Starters

Tara O’Neill
Tara O'NeilTara is the Project Engagement Officer for the PASTORAL project, working closely with our partners at the Soil Association and University of Edinburgh to engage with beef, sheep and dairy farmers across the UK as we co-design a new tool to optimise pasture management. The project is combining satellite data with advanced modelling of carbon flows to monitor and predict grass growth and carbon storage. This involves talking to farmers about the project and collecting details of their fields and pasture management.

Tara has just finished her PhD in applied ecology, at Royal Holloway, University of London (also with Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and CABI). She also has an MSc in Agro-ecology from Harper Adams University and a BSc in Zoology from the University of Leeds. She is interested in anything to do with sustainable agriculture.

Gulnur Durak
Gulner DurakGulnur has recently joined us as a Junior Software Developer. She has a degree in Computer Engineering from Istanbul Technical University. She is based near London and has worked as a freelance Software Developer for 1.5 years for a company in Germany. Away from work, she enjoys travelling.

 
 

Francis Crickard
Francis CrickardFrancis is from Belfast. Before joining Environment Systems as a Software Developer he studied in Liverpool for 4 years for a BA in History, with one year studying abroad in Suzhou, China. Subsequently he studied for an MSc in Software Development graduating in December 2021. A keen footballer and gamer, Francis is also fond of travelling.

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.

Sphere Autumn 2021

Sphere Autumn 2021

Welcome

In the last two special editions of Sphere leading up to the COP26 summit in Glasgow in November we have focused on ‘Natural Capital’ and ‘Net Zero.’ On the eve of the Glasgow summit in this special edition of Sphere we are concentrating on ‘Biodiversity.’ For many, today’s imperatives are tackling climate change, the reduction of emissions and new ways of generating energy, biodiversity tends to get forgotten. In this edition, we look at some of the ways in which we are helping to introduce nature-based solutions that seek to add resilience, restore ecosystems and find new opportunities to plant trees, re-wild, and mitigate the effects of climate change, whilst promoting greater biodiversity.

Contents

Why is Biodiversity so important?
Ecosystem Resilience Guide
Due Negligence Report
Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
CivTech – Scottish Peatland Restoration
Windfarms – Ecological Considerations
Understanding Ramsar wetland dynamics for marine conservation and environmental resilience

Why is Biodiversity so important?

A less wild world is a less stable world. Today, our world is less able to support the millions of species that have flourished over the millennia. No one organism, whether it be a tree or the smallest insect, is able to live in isolation. They live and work with countless others within ecosystems held together by complex and intimate relationships. This variety, complexity and interconnectivity we characterise as biodiversity. The biodiversity in ecosystems that thrive in the natural world provide us with a vast number of services for free, including the water we drink, or use to irrigate our crops, the air that we breathe and the materials that we use to build. However, our current way of life is threatening these natural ecosystems and the biodiversity within them.

In 2020, the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity published a global appraisal of the state of worldwide biodiversity and had a stark message. “The health of the ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

Ancient hay meadow
An ancient hay meadow with native wildflowers
According to a study by scientists at the Natural History Museum, Britain has lost over 50% of its natural biodiversity, with farming and urban spread, triggered by the industrial and agricultural revolutions, being blamed as major factors for this loss. The UK, the scientist conclude, is one of the worst-rated nations in the world for the extent to which its ecosystems have retained their natural animals and plants.

The importance and complexity of the problems we face are daunting. To address them we have to understand what is going on, and continually monitor the situation so that we can understand what needs to be done. We must model the ecosystems that we are dealing with to inform the policy and actions that need to be taken. Moving forwards, we need to continue to monitor, adjust and enforce action so that we add resilience, restore and extend the ecosystems we have plundered in the past.

Much of Environment Systems’ work around the world is focused on unpacking the complexity of the natural world and describing it in ways that inform decisions and actions on the ground. This involves mapping and recording where habitats are, monitoring change, understanding place- based aspects of natural capital and the ecosystem services that underpin it. Looking forward we consider different scenarios for the impact of climate change seeking to identify spaces for opportunities which will secure the maximum impact of restoration activities on the ground.

Ecosystem Resilience Field Guide

Recently, Environment Systems, working with LDA Design, were tasked with producing an Ecosystem Resilience Field Guide by Natural Resources Wales on behalf of the Nature Recovery Action Plan Ecosystem Resilience and Restoration Group. The need to build ecosystem resilience is driven by the Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the Environment (Wales) Act.

Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to deal with pressures and demands; resisting, recovering from or adapting to these whilst retaining their ability to deliver ecosystem services. A resilient ecosystem will demonstrate:
Diversity – including genetic diversity, species diversity, diversity within and between ecosystems, and structural diversity.

Extent – where its area is sufficiently large to sustain populations, support ecological processes and cope with negative edge effects like predation.
Condition – where the physical environment can support a comprehensive range of organisms and healthy populations.
Connectivity – where organisms can move within and between different ecosystems, from foraging or migration of individuals, through dispersal of seeds and genes, to the major shifts of species’ populations to adjust to a changing climate.

The guide sets out to inspire people to take action for sustainable land management, demystifying the concept and assisting stakeholders to understand and help build ecosystem resilience on the ground. In many ways it is a practical guide with specific actions highlighted for townscapes, lowland, upland and coastal areas. It is illustrated with annotated photographs that help in the understanding of the practical measures such as tree planting, hedgerow restoration and specific crop and livestock management that can be taken.

The guide also looks forwards to 2050 to show what a resilient future might look like. As we move towards 2050, the way in which we choose to manage our land will increasingly be based on its ability to provide multiple ecosystem services, not just one or two; crops or timber for example. Not all land will be suited to providing all ecosystem services, but all land will have the potential to provide a variety of services, and its ability to do this will greatly depend upon the diversity extent, condition and connectivity of the ecosystems found there.

Natural Resources Wales Ecosystem Resilience Guide
Lowland Journey towards 2050 – Annotated photographs help indicate where and what types of measures can be taken – photo ©John Briggs
  1. Trees planted to diversify farm income, provide shelter for grazing animals (improving animal welfare), storing carbon and increasing habitat extent and diversity.
  2. Woodlands managed to create a diverse range of tree ages, species and structural types, improving habitat condition and diversity.
  3. Lowland habitats, like semi- natural grasslands and wetlands, restored and created to increase diversity, condition, extent and connectivity.
  4. Continuous hedgerows and field margins provide corridors for wildlife movement, and carbon storage when managed sympathetically; increases habitat connectivity.
  5. A mixed farming model with diverse crop rotations together with livestock, agroforestry and orchards support wildlife as well as maintaining soil fertility and controlling pests and diseases; increases diversity and condition.
  6. Riparian planting reduces soil erosion and sediment inputs into watercourses, provides beneficial shading and nutrients to watercourses, and improves condition.
  7. Fencing watercourses creates a buffer strip to prevent livestock access, reducing soil erosion and sediment inputs into watercourses, improving diversity and condition.

You can access the guide here.

Due Negligence Report

Will a due diligence regulation on illegal deforestation delink UK supply chains from deforestation?

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.

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.

CivTech – Scottish Peatland Restoration

Peat is a big thing in Scotland covering 20% of the land area, of which 80% is degraded. Among the Scottish Government’s top priorities are the twin challenges of the climate change emergency and biodiversity loss. It has recently committed £250 million to peatland restoration over the next 10 years but why has it done this, and why is peatland so important?

Peatlands formed over thousands of years are incredibly special habitats, made up of highly adapted plant species and home to a range of rare and important wildlife. These include ground nesting birds (such as curlew, golden plover and hen harrier), red deer, mountain hares, lizards, amphibians, insect-eating sundew plants and a host of invertebrates all of which thrive on peatlands. Peatlands are important for humans too as most of Scotland’s drinking water is filtered through them.

Scottish peatland
Peatland which makes up over 20% of Scottish land cover is an important carbon store and home to a range of rare and important wildlife
Peatlands in the UK store more carbon than all of our forests put together. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “Peatlands store more carbon than all other vegetation types in the world combined.” As a result, their importance is only increasing as climate change begins to alter the functioning of the natural world, and inevitably with it, the species that depend on it. The Scottish initiative is being driven by CivTech, a new and exciting process driving daring innovation in the public sector by collaboratively solving challenges to make people’s lives better. At CivTech’s heart is an ‘Innovation Flow’ which culminates in the CivTech Accelerator. Innovative and ambitious teams, selected through an open and easy-to- enter exploration and selection process set out to solve challenges public sector organisations have set, in this case peatland restoration.

Environment Systems passed the Exploration Stage and now, together with its partners, the Tweed Forum Ltd, Land & Habitat Ltd and Sarah Robinson (a land and habitat Ecologist with extensive experience of Scottish peatlands), is moving on to the ‘Accelerator Stage.’ This stage is focused on the solution which will use our SENCE natural capital evaluation tool, plus satellite data analytics to develop a minimum viable product. This will be an online tool to provide area-based peatland restoration prioritisation to enable policy makers, land managers and contractors and the finance community to pinpoint areas of peatland requiring restoration. This will help Scotland to transition to net zero and restore one of its most valuable landscapes and significant carbon store. This solution would also be applicable to other peatland areas across the world.

Wind Farms – Ecological Considerations

Green energy production is of growing importance in Wales. Recent Welsh government planning development policy has identified tracts of land in mid-Wales for onshore wind projects. There are several prospective wind farms at the important planning stages, for although wind farms deliver an important renewable energy resource there are many concerns surrounding their environmental impact. Two of these projects are currently keeping Environment Systems’ team of ecologists busy. The studies currently being undertaken for an Ecological Impact Assessment include a focus on habitats, bats, mammals and reptiles. Birds are also covered under an Ornithological Impact Assessment. These are all necessary as part of the planning process.

Mid-Wales
Welsh Government has identified tracts of land in mid-Wales for onshore wind projects
Although wind turbines don’t have a very large footprint, some of the latest turbines are over 100 metres in height and move in an arc that means they can have a considerable impact on high flying birds, such as soaring raptors, and many bat species. Ecological surveys, which can take up to two years to complete, are required to ensure that there
is a detailed understanding of species, how they behave at different times of the year and under varying weather conditions. This will inform the micrositing of the turbines, for example to avoid fragmenting populations of great crested newt or important features used by badgers, otters and other protected species.

Times of higher-level activity for bats and birds are also important to understand,
as this will inform turbine feathering and curtailment – spinning down of turbines during specific climatic conditions. Feathering involves pitching the blades out of the wind when turbines are idling (not generating energy), to ensure speeds of less than two revolutions per minute.

Curtailment doesn’t necessarily mean loss of energy production, as smart-curtailment programs monitor climatic conditions at each turbine, and adjust for the local conditions. Implementing an increased ‘cut-in’ speed (the speed at which the turbine begins to spin and generate power) of approximately 5.75 metres/second reduces the majority of bat collision-related fatalities.

Measures taken to reduce bird collision- related fatalities include the painting of a single blade either black or with UV-paint, which is still a novel technique, particularly in the UK.

Understanding Ramsar wetland dynamics for marine conservation and environmental resilience

Ramsar sites T&CIs
The Ramsar sites contain a mix of marine and coastal habitat types.
Environment Systems is embarking on a new project that focuses on internationally important protected Ramsar sites in the Turks and Caicos Islands (T&CIs). The sites contain a mix of marine and coastal habitat types. There are mangroves, swamps, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and shallow saline lagoons which are linked to the sea in times of storm via subterranean channels. This is one of the best areas of coastal wetland habitat in the Caribbean, providing shelter and nursery locations for an enormous number of species, key hotspots of biodiversity both in the marine and terrestrial environment. They play an important role in protecting the islands from the effects of storms and hurricanes by dissipating wave energy and stabilising the coastline. However, they are under threat from development and the effects of rising sea level with climate change.

The project sets out to provide new evidence of the dynamic resilience of the T&CIs wetlands and how they support biodiversity, coastal protection, and natural capital in order to help make a scientifically robust case for the expansion of the protected area and to help people understand and value of this incredible resource. We will use our expertise in environmental modelling, mapping and monitoring to evaluate historic change in the wetlands, show how future climate could impact the current wetland dynamics and provide evidence to review the current Ramsar extent.

The project is funded under the UK Government’s Darwin Plus initiative. We have a great project team with the T&CIs Government Department of Environment and Resources, JNCC, and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS). MCS will provide data inputs from their long-term turtle satellite tagging programme, largely conducted in the Ramsar sites and, together with local consultants and the University of Exeter, coordinate ground-truthed mapping of the turtle foraging habitat.

To help the people on the islands and the policy makers understand the significance of these areas the work will include the creation of an open, interactive online monitoring intelligence dashboard. This will enable viewing of information about the Ramsar wetlands and be updated frequently using information gathered from remote sensing data. Another important element of the project is training to build the technical and scientific capacity of local staff to enable them to continue and develop the long-term management and conservation of the wetlands.

Sphere Summer 2021

Sphere Newsletter Summer 2021

Welcome

In this special net zero edition of Sphere we look at some of the work we have been doing both in the UK and internationally to help assess and understand the effects of climate change and bring our world back into balance. The journey to net zero is fraught with difficulty and as we approach the COP 26 climate change conference taking place in Glasgow in November the message is clearer than ever. Not only do we have to achieve the balance that the net zero narrative describes but we also have to seek ways and means to reduce the carbon already in our atmosphere. In other words net zero is just the start and getting there is going to take a huge effort from all of us, governments, agencies, environmental groups and us as individuals.

Contents

Why Net Zero?
Our Own Carbon Footprint
Informing Afforestation Policy
From Research to Action
Sequestering Carbon Through Tree Planting

Company News

Space Wales

Why Net Zero?

net zero
According to Bill Gates in his 2020 book ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster’ the world is currently emitting 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year. This startling figure has built up year-on-year as post-industrial human activity has increased. Even though the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily reduced emissions by 5% due to the sudden and unprecedented drop in human activity, emissions are on the rise again. COVID-19 will be a tiny blip on the graph. As greenhouse gas emissions rise so too does the temperature; at least 1 degree to date and predicted to be between 1.5 and 3 degrees by the middle of the century. Temperature rise is proven to cause climate change, the effects of which are widely debated but are deemed to be potentially catastrophic, so much so that a growing number of organisations and governments have declared there to be a climate emergency.

The term ‘net zero’ means achieving a balance between the carbon emitted into the atmosphere, and the carbon removed from it. Net zero has now become a mantra for governments signalling their intention to reach balance, in most cases, by 2050 and, in China’s case, by 2060. The current thinking is that if we achieve balance then we limit temperature rise and therefore more significant climate change together with all the negative consequences that are associated with it. Sadly, as we are seeing in North America, and many other parts of the world, rapid climate change is already underway. Net zero is just the start. The world needs to figure out how it can achieve balance and then start to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Nature-based solutions are key to the way forward not only to mitigate the effects of climate change but also to bring the world back into balance.

Our Own Carbon Footprint

Back in 2019 Environment Systems, driven by our staff-owned ethics policy and a commitment to actively support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it was agreed to investigate options for offsetting the company’s carbon emissions.

The Company has had its own BS 8555 accredited Environmental Management System for several years and has made significant strides to reduce waste and cut down energy and water use. In other words, we already had a good handle on our environmental impact and carbon footprint.

Carbon Footprint
We have made strides to reduce our carbon footprint and become carbon balanced
Our investigations led us to the World Land Trust (WLT). We worked with them to see what was required to achieve Carbon Balanced status. World Land Trust – Carbon Balanced offset schemes enable individuals and companies to financially contribute to environmental projects which protect threatened forests and restore forest habitats; these types of projects let companies make reductions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere equivalent to their carbon emissions.

WLT’s evidence-based Carbon Balanced programme focuses on nature-based solutions, such as avoiding deforestation, woodland rehabilitation, assisted natural regeneration and tree planting. As an environmental consultancy, the additional biodiversity benefits associated with these measures really appealed to us. We also felt that WLT’s transparent and flexible project design very much aligned with the company’s ethos of being ready to adapt in line with advances in science. WLT were able to use the figures from our annual BS 8555 audit to calculate our carbon footprint with the resulting financial contribution enabling us to complete the process. We are now proud to be a certified Carbon Balanced company through WLT.

Informing Afforestation Policy

To help mitigate the impacts of climate change and achieve benefits in other areas such as reduced flood risk, the Welsh Government (WG) has committed to an ambitious target to significantly increase woodland expansion by 2000 ha per year. To optimise the outputs of afforestation across Wales, and to demonstrate how nature-based solutions can work in practice, a holistic understanding of the multiple benefits provided by different types of woodland is required. Putting the right tree in the right place at the right sort of planting density could have great benefits not just in terms of ecosystem services such as carbon capture, flood mitigation and water quality but also for key species that use different parts of the woodland ecosystem.

Black Grouse
Black grouse a threatened species with important but fragmented populations in north Wales
This is the subject of a project being carried out with the RSPB. Environment Systems has been commissioned to investigate a number of different scenarios to benefit both ecosystem services and species. In this project, the focus has been on black grouse (Tetrao tetrix), which is a threatened species with important but fragmented populations in areas of north Wales. A moorland fringe species, black grouse inhabit areas containing a mosaic of wetland, heath, grassland, and woodland edge habitat. The thinking is that expanding the wooded areas in key places would increase the resilience of existing populations by connecting areas of fragmented habitat and connecting disparate populations. Planting in these areas is also likely to lead to an increase in water quality and a reduction in water flow peaks which can help flood alleviation. There are therefore good reasons to consider tree planting in specific areas to achieve these multiple benefits.

In this WG funded project RSPB are carrying out research into the diversity of bird species associated with different woodland types, whilst Environment Systems are carrying out carbon storage and sequestration analyses, surface water regulation modelling, and tree-planting opportunity modelling. There is a rich source of up-to-date data available, which makes the modelling work more compelling. We are building on previous work on ‘GIS for Area Statements’ for Natural Resources Wales (NRW), and a series of datasets modelling biophysical suitability for tree planting, created for WG under the Capability, Suitability and Climate Programme. The analyses combine these datasets to identify areas where the soil, topography and climate are suitable for growing trees, but also considers real world constraints, excluding areas where it would not be possible or desirable to plant trees (areas of deep peat, Scheduled Ancient Monuments etc), and areas where tree planting may be possible but additional factors must be considered (‘sensitivities’ e.g., acid sensitive catchments, common land etc).

Tree planting opportunities
Tree planting opportunities maps, commercial and environmental, for the Dee catchment in north Wales
Combining and building on the data from the NRW and Welsh Government projects allows us to consider biophysical, political and sociological influences on decision-making, and modify the decision rules to meet the specific habitat requirements of a priority species. In addition to the work on black grouse, the project is modelling tree-planting opportunity space in three wider catchments (Towy Valley, Elan Valley and the Dee), where the relative carbon and water regulation benefits derived from different afforestation strategies (‘commercial’ vs ‘environmental’) will be analysed.

The output will be used to demonstrate how species and the biodiversity of an area can and should be considered alongside other ecosystem services and planting considerations to give a truly holistic approach.

From Research to Action

In the Caribbean, the increasing frequency and severity of storms due to climate change has greatly impacted coastal areas. The 2017 hurricane season in particular saw massive destruction of coastal infrastructure and habitats. There is now wide recognition of the importance of natural coastlines, with healthy habitats including mangrove and coral reefs. These provide a frontline defence to protect local communities against the effects of storm surge, wind and wave action. The mangroves that grow in or near the water’s edge provide multiple benefits to nature and human communities. They provide habitat and nursery areas for fish (supporting 80% of the global fish catch) and also act as significant carbon sinks as well as a buffer against storms, wind and waves.

Samuel Pike, one of our Remote Sensing consultants, and Katie Medcalf, our Environment Director, worked with Louise Soanes (Roehampton University) and colleagues in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) to produce a research paper recently published in the Journal of Ocean and Coastal Management. The research used remote sensing to identify mangrove extents before the 2017 hurricane and the ongoing recovery. The research showed all sites had some form of recovery from the hurricane, but none had recovered to pre-hurricane Irma levels by 2019. In addition, ground surveys in 2020 identified a high presence of the fast-growing seaside mahoe, an invasive tree which does not have the coastal protection benefit of mangroves. The paper also presents how scientific rules were used together with our SENCE tool to model storm surge vulnerability and to identify those coastal regions at most risk, from future hurricane seasons and areas best for mitigation. This work has provided robust evidence for mangrove restoration and provides an important tool for further studies in the wider Caribbean region to help inform coastal restoration and resilience building activities.

In the Autumn 2020 issue of Sphere, we reported on work we had carried out in Anguilla funded under the UK Government’s Darwin initiative. In our part of the project, we took 100 years of hurricane data detailing their direction, frequency and strength and then used SENCE and the key factors that influence storm surge to provide maps. These show areas at risk from storm surge, where there are opportunities to enhance, restore and recreate natural defences such as planting mangrove and restoring dunes and how these measures will impact on the vulnerability of communities.

Mangroves
Mangroves which grow in or near the water’s edge provide multiple benefits to nature and human communities
Using the results of this work the Government of Anguilla identified seven priority coastal sites for habitat restoration, including beaches, dunes, and wetlands. Priority action plans for each site have been developed, outlining potential habitat restoration measures. Together with hundreds of community members, project partners have been working to implement the action plans by collecting and germinating seeds, air-layering woody coastal vegetation and planting over 1,000 buttonwood, seagrape, red, black and white mangrove seedlings in some of Anguilla’s most vulnerable and storm-affected coastal areas. Over seven acres of coastal habitat have been restored in the last few months and this is just the start.

This is a great example of our work moving from research to policy and action. With coastal wetlands being the richest source of carbon in the Caribbean, these cost-effective nature-based solutions will help tackle the negative effects of climate change and biodiversity.

On the back of this work, we will be leading a significant new project in the Turks & Caicos Islands funded under the Darwin initiative. The project will provide evidence of the dynamic resilience of Caicos Islands’ wetlands, and how they support biodiversity, coastal protection, and natural capital. It will evaluate historic change, show how future climate could impact the wetlands, and provide evidence to review the Ramsar Nature Reserve which covers the majority of the southern wetlands of North and Middle Caicos, and a small region on East Caicos. It will develop a monitoring framework and dashboard to view project and ongoing monitoring data, build technical and scientific capacity in local staff, in order to help sustain wetland management in the long term.

Sequestering Carbon Through Tree Planting

Following the declaration of a Climate Emergency by Welsh Government in April 2019 and committing to achieve a carbon neutral public sector by 2030, Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) have started to develop a Climate Emergency Response Programme which will work to mitigate the impacts of climate change. BCBC has acknowledged the crucial role they can play through the management of its own assets. One of the key ways to sequester carbon (removing it from the atmosphere and helping to slow climate change) is to plant trees. Environment Systems has been involved in a project that considers the land in BCBC ownership and its management in terms of its suitability for tree planting. In addition, we have looked at the importance of biodiversity which underpins the environment and ultimately our health, wealth and wellbeing as outlined in the Environment Act Wales 2016 and in the recent Dasgupta Review (Dasgupta, 2021). BCBC recognises that increasing the coverage of native tree species will help safeguard biodiversity and add to environmental resilience.

Tree planting schemes must ensure that the right species are planted in the right places and also deliver on a number of the key benefits which take into account the wider role of trees in the green infrastructure such as:

  • Quantifying the possible carbon stored in BCBC land and how much could be sequestered
  • Showing where planting community woodlands will help reconnect local people to their environment and ensure their health and wellbeing
  • Supporting and enhancing biodiversity
  • Slowing surface water run-off to help prevent flooding
  • Helping to prevent pollution from the land reaching watercourses
  • Enhancing landscape quality
  • Enhancing air quality
  • Reducing noise pollution
Bringing about change will be reliant on carbon pricing schemes and systems to administer and monitor them
One of the most interesting parts of the project was estimating the current amount of carbon stored in BCBC land and the potential for further sequestration as a direct result of any tree planting scheme. Using established research, which tells us how much carbon is stored in different types of vegetation and soils, and then taking into account factors such as slope and site hydrology, we used our SENCE natural capital evaluation tool to come up with some interesting figures summarised in the table below.
Carbon sequestration
tCO2e = tonnes (t) of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent (e)
Pricing based on DEFRA estimates per tCO2e

When the government and businesses start to put a price on carbon pollution as a means of bringing down emissions and driving investment into cleaner options things start to get interesting. Clearly bringing about change will be reliant on carbon pricing schemes and systems to administer and monitor them. If the trees establish well in the areas outlined in this project, they will not only sequester carbon, but aid biodiversity and provide many other benefits to the communities involved.

Company News

Space Wales

Environment Systems co-founder and Director Steve Keyworth was recently invited to join the Space Wales Leadership Group (SWLG) to provide a strategic view on commercial Earth observation opportunities for Wales. Space Wales is the result of the UK Space Agency funded cluster development project. SWLG has mapped out the sector in Wales, identified the key opportunities and outlined key recommendations and actions to be taken to shape a new space strategy for Wales. These are outlined in a recently published report: ‘Wales – A Sustainable Space Nation.’

Sphere Spring 2021

Sphere Newsletter Spring 2021

Welcome

In this issue of Sphere we are focusing on natural capital and more specifically on our SENCE (Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation) technology. The time could not be more prescient with the recent publication of the Dasgupta Review. Commissioned by
the UK Treasury the central message of the Review is one that will be familiar to many. Our economies, livelihoods and well-being all depend on nature, and the accelerating collapse of the natural world is fuelling extreme risk and uncertainty for our economies, our livelihoods, health and well-being. Without an understanding of, and methods for, evaluating our natural capital we cannot move forward with the necessary policies and actions required to protect and invest in our natural world. SENCE was designed to do just that.

Contents

Natural Capital in Context
The Role of SENCE
SENCE for Policy Advisors
SENCE for Estate Managers
SENCE for Supply Chain Managers
Data Dashboards
Mapping Risk to Water Quality from Space
Mapping Wildfires in Southern Belize – the case for analysis ready data (ARD)

Company News

Iain Cameron

Natural Capital in Context

The recently published Dasgupta Review commissioned by the UK Treasury was expertly timed to set the policy making agenda in advance of the UK’s hosting of the COP26 Climate Change conference in Glasgow in November 2021. It is clear that in the post-pandemic world the environment will be moving centre stage.

Across the UK where policy making for agriculture and the environment are devolved, we can already see a different approach. In England, the forthcoming Environment Bill introduces a mandatory requirement for biodiversity net gain into the planning system. This will ensure that new developments enhance biodiversity and create new green spaces for local communities to enjoy. The aim is that, by integrating biodiversity net gain into the planning system there will be a step change in how planning and development is delivered. The bill will provide new opportunities for innovation as well as stimulating new economic markets. This is expected to result in the creation, and the avoidance of loss, of several thousands of hectares of habitat for wildlife each year, which represents annual natural capital benefits of around £1.4 billion. This will increase the public benefits of ecosystems, such as improvements in air quality, water flow control, outdoor recreation and physical activity.

In Wales, the Environment Bill, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, and the new National Development Framework ‘Future Wales’, are putting the environment at the heart of place-based decision making. Environment Systems continues to be a key provider of information and consultancy helping Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales and Local Authorities to understand their environment and green infrastructure in their evidence based decision-making.

Future Wales Natural Capital Map
Future Wales – The National Plan 2040 – Natural Capital map produced with help from Environment Systems

In Scotland, the Government and NatureScot are working towards Natural Capital Accounts and implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy. Scotland has been on a path since the commencement of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Under this act all public bodies in Scotland have had a statutory duty to further the conservation of biodiversity. In 2020, the Scottish Government report, Scottish Natural Capital Accounts, published the value of Scottish Natural Capital. The Scottish Government has also updated its 2018 Climate Change Plan.

Across the world there are many other initiatives focused on natural capital evaluation and new systems of inducement in the form of credits, which are intimately linked with the move towards ‘Net Zero’ which we will be focusing on in the next issue of Sphere.

The world is beginning to realise that every ecosystem is vulnerable and unique, and there needs to be a universally shared understanding of how these systems work, and how those that have been damaged can be brought back to health. The Dasgupta Review explains how we have come to create these problems and the actions we must take to solve them. It then provides a roadmap for navigating towards the restoration of our planet’s biodiversity in an economic context. Nowhere is this more apparent than in modern agriculture which enables us to produce food at rates per hectare unthinkable in the past, but at the cost of biodiversity.

The Role of SENCE

It is difficult to even talk about ecosystems unless you can understand how they work, what they consist of and what state they are in. An assessment of natural capital is rising to the top of the agenda and is likely to be one of the most important elements of decision making on farms, estates, regions, and indeed, whole countries, to underpin future sustainable land management policy. Without the tools necessary to assess and evaluate the natural capital inherent in our land, the risks to biodiversity and the opportunities to bring them back to health, the emerging systems of credits, offsetting and achieving balance cannot operate. This is where SENCE – (Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation) has an important role to play. Developed over eight years, SENCE is a suite of tools which utilise the latest satellite Earth observation data, existing data, analytics and modelling.

How does it work?

SENCE provides the evidence to show where the environment is healthy and working well. It reveals where there are risks for example, by identifying which land is particularly susceptible to soil erosion, flooding or coastal retreat. SENCE also shows where the best places are to site new activities and developments that enhance natural capital, such as planting schemes.

What can SENCE deliver?

SENCE can be delivered at scales of 400 ha and up to whole countries. This brings SENCE into the mainstream as a direct response to the new initiatives and systems of credits. Now, through an interactive web-based dashboard or digital maps and reports, a policy advisor, investor, supply chain manager or an estate manager can understand the value of the land. This together with the risks to habitats, the possibilities and the opportunities and indeed the economic potential that can accrue from sustainable land management. Using existing data, satellite imagery and highly developed modelling techniques, SENCE can provide an up-to-date status of habitats and land use with detailed information on:

  • Carbon: Sequestration & storage
  • Water regulation: Natural flood management
  • Water quality: How the land is supporting or reducing water quality
  • Agriculture: Field productivity – in near real-time
  • Risk of soil erosion: Showing those areas most likely to be affected
  • Biodiversity risk: Woodland, grassland & wetland networks and protected areas such as SSSIs
  • Ecological networks: These show where organisms can move within and between different habitats preventing each population becoming isolated which helps increase resilience
  • Biodiversity net gain: Woodland, wetland, upland & grassland enhancement
SENCE for Policy Advisors

On many projects, SENCE has been used to inform policy. In Wales, for example, Environment Systems was involved in Natural Resources Wales’ (NRW) SoNaRR (State of Natural Resources Report) initiative. SoNaRR set out to be the first country-wide assessment of the health and resilience of ecosystems, and the first assessment of the extent to which Wales was sustainably managing its natural resources. SoNaRR confirmed the link between natural resources and the seven well-being goals set out in the ‘Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.’

Based on the evidence in SoNaRR, Welsh Ministers set out their priorities for policy, and since then, Environment Systems has been working on the next stages, developing the evidence for Area Statements to put these policies into action. We have delivered detailed maps, technical insight, plus user guides, to enable planners and other professionals to make well-informed choices and deliver true sustainable management of natural resources. Woodland Planting is a good example. The Welsh Government has set a target to increase woodland cover by 100,000 ha by 2030. Whilst woodland planting is not always popular with the public there are many places where there is a double benefit such as river catchments. Here planting can be introduced as part of natural flood management. This increases the water storage capacity of the soil and slows the flow of water downstream.

West of England Nature Partnership
West of England Nature Partnership – Woodland opportunities identified to strengthen the woodland network
SENCE was also used to assess the state of the environment in the West of England, for the West of England Nature Partnership. Taking an ecosystem service approach, Environment Systems helped to develop a series of 14 ecosystem service and ecological network maps.
It’s not just in the countryside where natural habitats and green space, such as broadleaved woodland, can play a key role. SENCE has been used by many Local Authorities in Wales as part of Green Infrastructure mapping which highlights the multiple benefits of current green spaces in towns and cities. SENCE is also used to map opportunities to enhance these areas to deliver more, and different, services. Using SENCE, Environment Systems has helped Local Authorities begin to introduce these key concepts into the Local Planning Process.
Roadside green infrastructure
An opportunity map for roadside green infrastructure to enhance air quality
One of the key features of SENCE is that it can be applied almost anywhere in the world and it is completely scalable. In the Caribbean, we have been working with British Overseas Territory governments to assess the risks posed by storm surge and flooding, a direct response to the increased number of extreme hurricane events. SENCE was used to create storm surge risk models, both to inform policy and to identify areas for action to be taken. The models also inform natural capital accounting by placing a monetary value on natural assets that stimulate tourism, for example.

The maps can be viewed online here.

SENCE for Estate Managers

Providing land managers with the wherewithal to fully understand natural capital on their estates, how their land operates and the value locked into their habitats will enable them to get ahead of
the game, and be fully prepared for the natural capital revolution. As we start the journey to ‘Net Zero’, SENCE will be helping the custodians of the land achieve the balance that this target requires.

During 2021, Environment Systems will launch SENCE Estates (see dashboard on previous page) plus follow-on consultancy packages to help land managers make the most of the opportunities their land offers. Imagine you manage a large estate with a wide range of different land use. There will be carbon locked into that land, specific biodiversity and different habitats. In the past, agricultural subsidies may well have determined how the land was managed, but now your natural capital is going to be at the forefront of your decision making, and not least your financial planning.

SENCE for Supply Chain Managers

A global farming and food business working thousands of acres, and employing thousands of people around the world to grow, process, pack and market a range of fresh produce, has to understand and closely manage its supply chain. What happens if the crop is late or that there is a drought, flooding or some other extreme weather event? Supply chain managers have to be able to understand and monitor what is happening, increasingly in as close to real-time as possible to ensure supply chain continuity.

Colombia Mapper
Habitat map of Colombia, one of several Natural Capital maps created by Environment Systems

In Colombia, we have been working with grower organisations to demonstrate how the adoption of a natural capital approach to land management can increase ecosystem resilience, and with that, secure their production against extreme weather events. By modelling existing natural capital, and opportunities to enhance it, together with providing advice on management actions that utilise practical, nature-based solutions, we are opening up new opportunities which were previously unheard of.

Data Dashboards

With an ever-increasing supply of valuable data, there has been a rise in demand for a high-quality means of presenting information to customers, staff, and stakeholders, in a way that is quick and easy to interpret. Dashboards have become an effective way to present data in an accessible and user-friendly manner. They can be a great tool for businesses, government and NGOs alike.

There are several key elements to a dashboard. Most importantly, the information on a dashboard should be presented so that it is easy to understand. All the information needed to make decisions should be on a single screen, facilitating quick and easy interpretation. The dashboard should be interactive to get the full potential from the information being presented, so that users can drill down into the detail if required with a simple click. Dashboards should also be flexible enough to cover as many user requirements as possible, and easy to deploy. The latest web technologies are making this possible.

The data presented within a dashboard can be used for operational decision making; allowing staff to understand events, projects, or assets, by monitoring their status in near real-time. Dashboards can also present data for strategic decision making, where an organisation can track key performance indicators (KPI), and market data.

Data sources can be varied, such as Internet of Things (IoT), market intelligence providers, app-based data collection etc. Environment Systems Data Services can directly feed into such dashboards with the use of our API connectors. These provide the dashboard with a near real-time supply of satellite-derived metrics, which can be presented, and interact with, other key information on the dashboard.

In summary, dashboards provide particular information that an organisation needs in order to run effectively and efficiently presented in easy-to- read graphics and charts.

This will secure the UK aquaculture and food supply chain while producing a high-value, highly-nutritional and sustainable food. The ultra-low carbon footprint food, powered by wind, will increase overall efficiency of the system and develop satellite, Internet of Things and sensor-based UK intellectual capital for export to producers worldwide.

We have co-developed with our partner Triage a SENCE dashboard. This is shown below with a number of different data views.

Web-based Dashboard
Summary tab provides a good holistic overview bringing all of the data together into a single management dashboard. The different tabs display different data views. The maps can even display the quantity of tons of stored carbon and its value based on the current carbon price. The dashboard can also display carbon sequestration over time, and provide ‘what-if’ scenarios for changing one land use to another.
  • Agriculture
    This map shows the vegetation productivity (NDVI) for each field which is automatically updated
  • Grassland networks
    Existing biodiversity, in this case the natural grassland network
  • Woodland and wetland networks
    View indicating the woodland and wetland networks
  • SENCE Carbon
    This view indicates the relative amount of carbon likely to be stored both above and below ground at a field/ parcel scale
  • Woodland planting opportunities
    View shows opportunities for woodland planting which are likely to deliver natural flood management benefits and ranks fields according to their relative value
  • Wildlife network corridors
    Wildlife network corridors
  • SENCE Home
    The home screen provides the introduction to the dashboard and the comprehensive list of data views available
  • Vegetation helps to store and slow water flow
    View showing the way that vegetation is helping to slow and store water

Mapping Risk to Water Quality from Space

A large amount of the water we drink comes from rivers and reservoirs. Although this water passes through complex treatment processes to make it safe to drink, the time, effort and cost of these processes depends on the quality of the raw water.

Human activities, in particular farming, can affect water quality by increasing the risk of soil mobilisation. For example, when arable land is tilled, soil is exposed. These bare soil fields present a higher risk of both erosion and diffuse pollution when compared to land which has vegetation cover.

We have been working with Anglian Water to identify areas of bare soil and model the risk they present to water quality. This negates the need for extensive and costly ground surveys supporting better management of resources and providing evidence for mitigation activities at farm scale such as planting buffer strips, growing cover crops or moving gateways.

Heigham catchment
Fields measured and modelled track well over time
A large portion of the region Anglian Water manages is used for large scale commercial agriculture. As a result, fields of bare soil
are common throughout the year. However, some bare fields will present more of a risk to water quality than others. The factors that influence risk include:

  • Distance/proximity to river network:Bare fields in close proximity to a river network present a higher risk than fields further away because the soil has less distance to travel before it reaches the river.
  • Slope: Bare fields that drain more steeply present a greater risk of soil erosion since they have a higher risk of soil mobilisation.
  • Soil type: Fields found in areas where the soil type is more vulnerable to mobilisation will present a higher risk of soil erosion if bare.
  • Vegetation: The vegetation found both within a field and between a field and the river network will affect the risk to water quality. Vegetation protects soil from erosion by preventing direct impact from rainfall, slowing down overland flow (reducing its erosive power), trapping sediment and stabilising the soil profile via the root network. Fields that have lots of vegetation between them and the river network are of a lower risk.

We are using Environment Systems Data Services and our Earth observation analytics to model water quality risk in near real-time for the Heigham catchment in Norfolk. This information is delivered to Anglian Water in the form of an interactive Business Intelligence Dashboard, which supports analysis via the visual representation of often very complex data. The dashboard has proved a success and we are currently working with Anglian Water to roll it out to other catchments.

Mapping Wildfires in Southern Belize – the case for analysis ready data (ARD)

Savanna based ecosystems across the world are suffering increasingly from wildfires due to climate change and illegal human activities. In many regions, this puts the fragile ecosystems under threat, so mapping the extent of wildfires becomes important to enable the organisation of mitigation measures.

Recently, Environment Systems supported a Masters student from the University of Edinburgh School of GeoSciences, Chris Halliday, in a project that sought to investigate a new approach to mapping savannas. An 1,800 km2 area of Southern Belize was chosen as the area of study. The area was chosen because it suffers from extensive wildfires, which destroy saplings, the habitats of nesting birds, and cause a general decline in biodiversity. Three ‘Protected Areas’ within this area are designated to protect key savanna species.

Currently, the burnt areas of savanna are mapped annually at the end of the dry season in May by visual interpretation of Sentinel-2 optical imagery. This method requires cloud-free imagery, which is not always available. In addition, the timing is not optimal due to rapid savanna regrowth. Radar data, which can penetrate cloud, is not generally used to map burnt areas of savanna as few land managers have the required expertise to handle this data source.

Burn areas in Southern Belize
Burnt areas mapped from Sentinel-2 (left) compared to burn areas mapped using a time-series of Sentinel-1 indices
Step-in Sentinel-1 analysis ready data (ARD) from Environment Systems Data Services. The project investigated pairs of radar images before and after a fire. The physical basis for detecting burnt areas using radar relies on being able to observe changes in backscatter over time. With imagery captured from January to December 2019, object-based image analysis was used to compare radar- based methods with the visual analysis of Sentinel-2 imagery obtained for the nearest dates. The radar-based method detected 87.6 % of the burnt areas compared to the visual analysis, but was also able to reveal more about fire evolution over the season due to the increased frequency of the data capture, and its ability to see through the cloud.

Company News

Iain Cameron

Iain Cameron promotedIain who joined Environment Systems in 2011 has been promoted to Principal Consultant. With over ten years’ experience as an Earth observation (EO) scientist, Iain has expertise in all aspects of calibration, processing and analysis of a wide array of spatial and remote sensing data. Iain specialises in the processing and analysis of optical imagery from drone and satellite platforms, and is an expert in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) analysis for land and marine applications. He is the lead on EO research and development across the company with extensive skills in many GIS and development software products. Iain has a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh, on using EO for mapping ecosystems.

Sphere Winter 2020-21

Sphere Newsletter Winter 2020-21

Welcome

As we approach the end of 2020 it is gratifying to report that we are busy and active well beyond the confines of the UK. Despite the pandemic we have been working as far abroad as Australia, the Middle East, Africa, North and Latin America, and the Caribbean. Our technological innovation continues apace as we further extend the range and scope of our activities as one of the UK’s largest downstream Earth observation companies. We can look forward with optimism to the year ahead.

Contents

Monitoring Grassland by Satellite
East End Pond – Anguilla
AGRI-SATT
Smart Rural

Company News

Environment Systems Data Services
Caron Pugh

Monitoring Grassland by Satellite

Back in 2019 we were involved in a pilot project which investigated the potential of using satellite remote sensing to inform grassland management and predict grass yield in Wales. Things have moved on since then but the reasons for wanting to do this have not really changed. Grass is an essential crop in livestock production, and grazed grass is the cheapest and most efficient form of feed on a farm. When managed well, inputs and production costs can be reduced, boosting profit margins.

Measuring and monitoring grass growth enables the farmer to improve quality and maximise yield, and make decisions about stocking, grazing rotation and fertiliser applications. On smaller farms this is achieved with a rising plate meter which measures the growth and quantity of available ‘Dry Matter’ per hectare (DM/ha). It is a very labour intensive and time-consuming process so the attraction of using data from satellites which pass over the farms every 6 days is plain to see. In the pilot project Environment Systems developed an algorithm that can predict average grass cover (Kg DM/Ha) to develop a ‘hands free’ online tool to help farmers estimate average grass cover. The algorithm uses radar data, chosen for its ability to penetrate cloud cover and then provide consistent data readouts over time.

Plate meter versus satellite data
Fields measured and modelled track well over time
Since that time, we have proved that the technology is transferable to other regions. We have been using radar data in Colombia where persistent cloud cover prevents the use of more traditional optical satellites. The consistent source of data over time is helping farmers to manage their grazing grassland more efficiently.

We have also proved that the technology is scalable. We have been successfully monitoring grassland on a 50,000ha farm in New South Wales, Australia. These are exciting developments because we now know that our technology is both transferable and scalable which means that it can be applied to farms previously considered too large for routine use of a plate meter. Starting out in a small pilot project in Wales less than eighteen months ago we have now proved the efficacy of satellite data for monitoring grassland within a single field or across entire continents!

In November Caron Pugh one of Senior Consultants presented the findings of our research in the Precision Livestock Farming And Sensing Technology In Extensive Grassland Systems Webinar run by the BSAS (British Society of Animal Science). His presentation is now available on YouTube or you can access the whole webinar here.

East End Pond – Anguilla

East End Pond is a conservation area in Anguilla, the island’s only protected salt pond and an internationally recognised reserve for wetland bird species. Fed from a large catchment and supplemented by natural springs, the pond intermittently dries out in the summer, exposing mudflats attractive to shore birds. However, during heavy rainfall events, such as those associated with hurricanes, major flooding can take place. These damage the ecological balance of the pond, the surrounding vegetation, and inundate the main road and buildings within the local community. The pond has also been subject to siltation, decreasing the volume of water the pond can hold which can increase flood risk.

East End Pond - Anguilla
East End Pond – present day erosion risk
Working with the RSPB and Anguilla National Trust, Environment Systems has carried out a study to investigate the potential for flooding, and identify where and how nature-based solutions might mitigate the issue. Planting native vegetation throughout the wider catchment can help to reduce the infill of East End Pond caused by soil erosion. Reducing sediment infill will help maintain the water volume the pond can contain during flood events.

Using a variety of datasets, including digital surface models, hydrological data and rainfall data, Environment Systems created a number of different models such as flood extents and risk from erosion under different scenarios. In addition, we created a series of maps to illustrate how habitat management interventions (natural solutions such as increasing the capacity of vegetation) could improve ecological functioning with regard to flood prevention and mitigation of erosion. This work will inform wider wetland conservation action plans, and planting proposals in partnership with local experts and community organisations. This will help to improve the ecological status and climate-resilience of these important habitats. They will also be a useful tool for policy makers when new housing is proposed.

AGRI-SATT

AGRI-SATT is an Innovate UK funded project led by algal growth specialists SuSeWi, based around their growing system which exploits natural seawater to produce food in deserts. The project aims to combine data from the growing system with satellite data to automate production and increase the nutritional quality of the food produced. Environment Systems is one of the project contractors providing Earth observation data acquisition, processing expertise and metrics.

Algal pond - Morocco
SuSeWi’s third generation algal growing installation in Morocco
The AGRI-SATT programme will combine high-resolution spatial and temporal satellite data with algal growth parameters to create an effective, scalable, protein and food production method on desert land. The pilot programme will take place in the Moroccan desert at SuSeWi’s third generation algal growing installation. The objective of this project is to develop a complete and sustainable system that can produce food and aquaculture feed at a price that competes with high value food and feed ingredients such as soy protein concentrate, fishmeal and pea-protein-isolate.

Currently, monitoring of in-pond photo-physiology is achieved using Single Turnover Active Fluorometer equipment to measure photosynthesis rates and compute productivity. However, this equipment is both expensive and difficult to scale. The alternative, and the main focus of this project, is spectrally corrected satellite data of the algae (6,000 data points per production pond) with ground-based operational information. Combined in a ‘Digital Twin’ this enables production to be observed, managed and adjusted to local environmental conditions on a daily basis from the UK.

This will secure the UK aquaculture and food supply chain while producing a high-value, highly-nutritional and sustainable food. The ultra-low carbon footprint food, powered by wind, will increase overall efficiency of the system and develop satellite, Internet of Things and sensor-based UK intellectual capital for export to producers worldwide.

Smart Rural

Smart RuralDigital infrastructure is crucial to the agricultural and tourism sectors in rural Wales so concludes a recent report by economic research company Wavehill, commissioned by BT. At BT’s recent Smart Rural launch event Katie Medcalf our Environment Director gave a talk to explain how Environment Systems had benefited from enhanced digital connectivity. As an environmental and data consultancy the real game changer came in 2014 when our internet connection improved thanks to a 100 Mbs leased line. Before this we were much more restricted in what we could do with data. Satellite imagery and environmental datasets tend to be very large and working with a 3 Mbs connection, required an awful lot of planning and thought. The speed of our internet connection held us back organisationally in terms of our research and innovation as well as in supplying data to customers.

Our current 100 Mbs connection has really revolutionised both the structure of the company, our technology innovation and our client service offering. For example, we now offer cloud-based data services providing up-to-date, analysis ready satellite imagery across the UK, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, with the ability to make this available anywhere we are working in the world. This can give clients near real-time environmental data on productivity of the vegetation, crop performance, fire risk and other hazards.
We also offer highly detailed sub-field drone data to our agricultural clients. Here connectivity is key to moving this data rapidly from the field, back to the office for processing and then on to our clients.

Organisationally, we’ve gone from everyone working in the Aberystwyth office to having staff members based in Latin America and across the UK. In our recent response to COVID-19, we were able, in a matter of days, to transition the whole company from working from office space to working from home, whilst still providing everyone with access to our servers, without any loss of work continuity.

As a company we are keen to ‘keep ahead of the game’ so we are looking forward to improvements to the mobile network, especially in rural areas. We think the opportunities presented by digital innovation and connectivity are only just beginning with so many new ways of analysing, modelling and describing our environment which will enable us to continue to grow as a business.

The maps clearly show where the risks are highest, and therefore make it possible to inform a simple decision such as whether a site is suitable for a new development. The opportunity maps show where it might be useful to create new areas of coral, plus red or buttonwood mangrove and even where to establish dunes and the species that form and hold them together. They also illustrate the impact these measures will have if implemented.

Company News

Environment Systems Data Services

Environment Systems Data ServicesNothing stands still for long, unless you let it, and software is a good case in point. It is always evolving, and the interdependencies can often lead to technical debt. With this in mind our development team recently carried out a significant upgrade to Environment Systems Data Services. Firstly, we carried out a wholesale refresh of European Space Agency software, critical to accessing Sentinel satellite data. We have also implemented some ‘under the hood,’ so to speak, modifications to admin and maintenance routines ‘containerising’ our application and moving towards a microservices style architecture. This reduces maintenance ops, in some cases, from hours to minutes. We have also spruced up our data pulling routines which means we can ensure greater continuity by being able to pull data from multiple sources. Lastly, we made it easier for our project managers to select their data zones and date ranges without reference to a developer. Suffice to say, better, faster and more secure.

Please go and take a look to find out more.

Caron Pugh

Caron PughCaron who originally joined us in 2011, has recently been promoted to Senior Remote Sensing Consultant. Our resident large scale agricultural crop performance and drone data expert, Caron has a key role leading many of our efforts in commercial applications in agriculture.

Sphere – Autumn 2020

Welcome

Mapping land cover, crops and habitats is something we’re good at. It has all become a bit routine but during a, now all too familiar, Zoom call back in August a member of our Data Services Team reported that we had mapped over 600 million km² in the last year, albeit many areas more than once. As it turns out the conversation did not stop there and it transpires that we have done a lot more than that. The interesting thing is that we can now do this work at scale from a few hectares to many thousands of square kilometres, something that was just not possible a few years ago. This issue of Sphere demonstrates that we have developed a world class capability in this area.

Contents

One Million Fields Surveyed!
Visualisation
Agri-Environment Scheme Analysis Drives Policy
Simple, Pragmatic, Usable!
Rail Network Habitat Mapping
G-Cloud
Our Impact on the Environment

One Million Fields Surveyed!

Incredible as it may seem, during one of the weekly updates between members of our Data Services Team they calculated that we have surveyed over one million fields in the last year. When we take into account the number of repeat visits to some of these fields, the land area we have covered is well over 600 million km². We’re always busy in the UK but more recently we have been expanding our focus to include Latin America. We have covered huge areas of soybean cultivation in Brazil and Argentina, 70,000 km² in Peru and 68,000 km² in Colombia for the EO4cultivar project. In addition, under the project extension, we have also surveyed areas of Paraguay, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, Belize, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Cuba and Mexico.

In most cases we are mapping commercial farms. We have become quite the experts in banana plantation maps for example! When we say mapped it is more accurate to say classified and monitored. In many instances no maps exist and we have become very adept, using our own algorithms, in creating field maps so that farmers and their supply chains can readily identify and deal with issues as they arise. Multi-temporal monitoring of crops and identification of growth stages is beginning to revolutionise the way that growers manage their assets.

oat classification
Oat crop classification, Saskatchewan, Canada
This year we have also moved at scale into North America. Our work has specifically focused on oat growing regions in the US and Canada. We have mapped over 580k parcels of land in North Dakota, New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba providing crop growth stage intelligence in easily accessible online data dashboards.

Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 satellites provide the majority of the data we process but we are also avid consumers of Planet and other commercial sources, with much of the analyses automated using our own algorithms developed in-house.

Visualisation

These days we have to deal with huge volumes of data the challenge is how to communicate the information and knowledge we derive from it to enable the end user to act. Increasingly we are using dashboards as a key part of how we deliver the results of our endeavours.
data dashboards
Data dashboards support analysis and interpretation of data through visual representation of the data. They are web based, interactive and can automatically update as new data are acquired. They provide an at-a-glance overview of complex data to support and improve decision making through the use of statistics, maps, graphs and pie charts to name a few. The exciting thing is that data dashboards can present a wide range of data including statistics, spatial data (maps), right down to field scale, crop extents, crop growth stage, areas of bare soil, planting opportunities, natural capital evaluation, coastal areas at risk of storm surge, in fact pretty much anything that we choose to present from the data we process.

As a result, we can offer our customers dashboards which are specifically focused on the information they need with associated graphs and statistics. Whilst dashboards can be interactive and present data over time, we are also using other dashboards or ‘story maps’ which show static data in useful ways. To do this we make extensive use of a number of software platforms including Tableau, ESRI (with support from our friends at Triage) and even our own web viewers when needed. This gives us the ability to choose the right mix of technology for accessing and visualising data.

Agri-environment Scheme Analysis Drives Policy

Agri-environment schemes (AES) provide funding to farmers and land managers to farm in a way that supports biodiversity, enhances the landscape, and improves the quality of water, air and soil, but how effective are they? The latest Natural England Agri-environment Evidence Programme annual report draws from eight projects, four of which Environment Systems was involved in.
wild flower meadow
The projects were collaborative and focused on key areas. Our partners on each project are shown in brackets.

  • An assessment of gradual climate change and changes in the frequency of extreme weather events on farming and the ability of AES to deliver the desired environmental outcomes (CCRI and LUC)
  • The contribution of AES to Natural Capital (Vivid Economics and York University)
  • The effective ness of AES on improving SSSI condition – covered in Sphere Autumn 2019 (CCRI and LUC)
  • Phase 3 of the evaluation of the the Countryside Stewardship Facilitation Fund established as part of Countryside Stewardship to support cooperation between farmers and land managers at the landscape scale (CCRI and LUC)

Each project report provides key insights, for example, how hedge and hay cutting dates are beginning to clash with earlier egg laying and bud burst. Positive outcomes include the encouraging effect of AES on natural capital but also various shortcomings, such as the lack of up-to-date data available for analysis.

The robust approach to monitoring and evaluation is central to the design and roll out of the Environmental Land Management scheme (ELM) which is due to be in place by the end of 2024, replacing the schemes currently available under the Common Agricultural Policy. Environment Systems continues to be a key provider of evidence and insight that will help to inform future policy and the introduction of the ELM schemes.

Simple, Pragmatic, Usable!

Sometimes we need to understand a particular user’s perspective in order to deliver precisely the information that is both useful and actionable. In the Caribbean, which suffers more than its fair share of extreme weather events, the devastation wrought by hurricanes and associated storm surges, we have taken this approach, the end users being planners. Taking 100 years of hurricane data detailing their direction, frequency and strength we have used our SENCE modelling methodology and the key factors that influence storm surge to provide simple maps. The maps show areas at risk from storm surge, where there are opportunities to enhance, restore and recreate natural defences such as planting mangrove and restoring dunes and how these measures will impact on vulnerability.

The key factors include steep slope, the presence of coral and mangroves, which are scored high because of their ability to break up high waves. Shallow sloping beaches with no natural dunes left intact obviously score low because they don’t present a significant defence against storm surge.

Anguilla storm surge
Anguilla with the strength and extent of the storm surge characterised in red. The light blue areas indicate opportunities for mitigation efforts.

The maps clearly show where the risks are highest, and therefore make it possible to inform a simple decision such as whether a site is suitable for a new development. The opportunity maps show where it might be useful to create new areas of coral, plus red or buttonwood mangrove and even where to establish dunes and the species that form and hold them together. They also illustrate the impact these measures will have if implemented.

Rail Network Habitat Mapping

Earlier this year we were asked to survey two pilot areas for ECUS, an environmental consultancy, as part of a study to investigate the feasibility of mapping the Network Rail estate.
railway habitat mapping
Network Rail owns, operates and develops Britain’s railway infrastructure which comprises 20,000 miles of track, 30,000 bridges, tunnels and viaducts and thousands of signals, level crossings and stations. Either side of the land on which the rails sit there are a huge variety of unmapped habitats.

Using long-established remote sensing techniques which we have developed in-house we have become extremely good at mapping habitats and land cover. On this project we used Sentinel-2 imagery and some aerial photography to map two areas in Kent and Sussex into habitat classes as part of the evidence base to support better land management of the estate.

G-Cloud

Crown Commercial Service Supplier
The Government’s G-Cloud Framework, sometimes referred to as the Digital Marketplace is an online service that enables public sector organisations, including agencies and arm’s length bodies, to find and buy cloud technology and specialist services for digital projects. We are delighted to report that from 28th September we have been included in the latest Framework 12 where we offer an Earth Observation Data Service for the provision of on-demand analysis-ready satellite data plus environmental and agricultural metrics.

You can find us in the Digital Marketplace here.

Our Impact on the Environment

BS8555
As an environmental consultancy we have always been aware of our own impact on the environment and back in 2012 we were accredited to BS8555 and have since evolved our Environment Management System (EMS) which enables us to monitor, improve and control our environmental performance.

This year we successfully updated our policies and procedures from BS8555 2013 to BS8555 2016. We were able to achieve a total reduction in the waste we produce by 33%, and reduce waste going to landfill by 8%. Earlier this year we reported on our collaboration with World Land Trust which enables us to be a carbon balanced company. This was achieved through a collaboration between the EMS team and the Ethics Committee here at Environment Systems. World Land Trust’s Carbon Balanced programme enables individuals and organisations to offset their residual greenhouse gas emissions through the protection and restoration of carbon-rich wildlife habitats in the tropics.