Sphere Newsletter

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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.

Sphere – Summer 2020

Welcome

It has been a peculiar year and despite everything we are busy and working from home with full access to all our data and technology. We continue to deliver lots of exciting projects. This issue of Sphere demonstrates the diversity of activity across the company, and how we are leveraging our expertise and technology to great effect and across the world.

Contents

Project News

Crop Suitability Modelling In Wales
EO4cultivar – Tecbaco
Current Relative Value for ecosystem resilience (CuRVe)
Better Targeting of Information and Advice on Protected Areas in Scotland
Drone Season

Crop Suitability Modelling In Wales

According to the latest Met Office UK Climate Projections (UKCP18), the UK is going to experience wetter winters, warmer and drier summers, increased incidence of storms and extreme weather, and rising sea levels. Soil is a complex medium, and different soil types, in different landscape contexts, are expected to respond to climatic changes to different extents. This creates a great deal of uncertainty in how climate change could impact on agricultural production in Wales. Environment Systems has completed a two-year project led by Welsh Government, using new climate projection and Agricultural Land Classification (ALC) data to unravel this uncertainty. The project used soil and climate information to model land suitability for 118 different crop types, including some novel crops such as tea and almonds, under current conditions and nine projected climate change scenarios.

Potato crop suitability
Overall suitability for potato grown on a commercial basis across nine climate change scenarios
During the project, the partners developed and improved the existing soil mapping for Wales, updating the ALC dataset. Environment Systems carried out additional biophysical modelling of wind, frost, salt spray, and flood risk, combining the data to consider how all factors affect our ability to grow different crops in different parts of Wales. Different climate change scenarios were explored – low, medium and high emissions scenarios, up to 2080.

A variety of crops common to Wales and the UK were considered, including cereals, row crops, horticultural crops, orchard crops, timber crops and specialist crops. The outputs from the project take the form of GIS data files which contain the models for all 118 crops. The suitability modelling shows how the spatial extent of suitable ground for each crop changes with the climate in the different scenarios. The models tell us that the agricultural sector in Wales will be required to change in a relatively short period of time but not all parts of Wales will be affected in the same way, or to the same extent. The models provide an important source of evidence for policy makers, landowners and the agricultural industry as they prepare and plan for the future.

This project was led by Welsh Government Land, Nature and Forestry Division with partners Environment Systems Limited, RSK ADAS Limited and Cranfield University.

EO4cultivar – Tecbaco

We have reported before on the EO4cultivar project that we are leading in Latin America. Four years in, we are starting to see the results of the collaboration with commercial partners and here we look at three ways Tecbaco, a large international fruit supplier based in Colombia, is using our Agri-track services to good effect.

Cultivation Planning
It takes between nine and 12 months for a banana plant to produce a flower after being planted, and it takes another two to three months for the bananas to ripen. For this reason, cultivation planning is necessary to ensure that the bananas can be brought to market at the best time. Agri-track data, provided by Environment Systems, enables Tecbaco to monitor many different field situations, keeping agronomists informed, enabling advanced cultivation planning and speedy response to poor crop performance or adverse weather events. The data insights enable crop management and controlled market entry making a significant impact.

Addressing Poor Crop Health
Environment Systems supply satellite imagery and analytics for Tecbaco farmers and their agronomists. Close analysis of imagery for June 2019 indicated that one of their banana grower’s fields stood out from the rest. It was clear that the health of the crop growing in this plot was suboptimal. Access to imagery enabled a quick investigation of farming practices on the ground to explain and rectify the issue.

Responding to the advice of the Tecbaco agronomists, the farmer was able to bring his crop back to full health in less than two months. This remarkable result not only improved his own productivity but also contributed fully to Tecbaco’s output. Access to the data provided by Environment Systems enabled Tecbaco to identify a problem they did not know they had, and then act quickly, providing the farmer with the advice required to restore crop health and prevent any lasting reduction in productivity.

Wind Damage Assessment for an Insurance Claim
At the end of June 2019 strong winds affected several banana fields in Tecbaco plantations. Changes in Agri-track data, indicated that a total of 48 hectares of banana fields had been damaged by storms.

Before and after wind damage
Banana plantation before and after a storm with the wind damage clearly visible in the image on the right

Using satellite imagery, it was easy to identify and measure the perimeter of the affected area and organise field teams to remove damaged trees and support the restoration effort to bring the area back into full productivity. The satellite data also enabled quantification of tree and fruit loss to report the extent of the damage for insurance purposes.

Current Relative Value for ecosystem resilience (CuRVe)

Natural Resources Wales (NRW) looks after the air, land, water, wildlife, plants and soil of the country for the benefit of its citizens. Earlier this year we produced a report and the CuRVe (Current Relative Value) map atlas for ecosystem resilience for NRW. This fulfils the policy background requirements where the sustainable management of natural resources is seen as key to maintaining and enhancing ecosystem resilience.

As there is no direct way to measure the resilience of an ecosystem this project trialled the DECCA approach, an experimental way of combining data. The DECCA approach is named after five attributes: Diversity, Extent, Condition, Connectivity, and Adaptability, all of which have a substantial effect on ecosystem resilience. For the CuRVe atlas, 16 factors, each a proxy for one of the attributes, were selected and mapped by interpreting and combining existing datasets and summarising them into 1 km reporting squares. All factors were brought together to create one overall current relative resilience map of Wales. Presented on an NRW web portal, the CuRVe atlas allows users to explore what drives the varying levels of resilience across Wales to help target policy and other intervention effectively.

Ecological networks
Relative resilience based on the number of overlapping ecological networks

Of particular interest in this study were the number of discrete habitat networks. For this map, ecological network maps for bog, fen, grassland, heathland, sand dunes, and woodland were used to identify the number of networks present within each reporting square. In some squares, as many as 5 out of 6 networks are present. These areas of overlap act as major nodes between various habitat networks across Wales which is likely to make them highly important to ecosystem resilience and connectivity, something not identified in previous studies of the Welsh uplands.

Better Targeting of Information and Advice on Protected Areas in Scotland

This was a proof of concept project for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). It was initiated in an effort to free-up planning officer time by enabling land managers and developers to become better informed when considering changes in management or a building development project, on a Protected Area in Scotland. The result is an easy- to-use and engaging online digital service prototype providing step-by-step guidance in combination with a map interface, to identify and select target areas and deliver information. A ‘Chatbot’ is used to enable a simple conversation-based user experience, ensuring that users receive relevant information in an understandable way.

Information and advice on Protected Areas in Scotland
This image shows that the selected polygon falls within a protected area with the ‘Chatbot’ providing initial information, followed by a user question and Chatbot response
Having selected an area on the map, users are initially presented with a brief summary of what is special about the area. They can then ask further questions with the response driven by dynamic access to SNH case management data. The heart of the solution is a Cloud hosted data integration platform which includes mapping, analytics, natural language processing and machine learning elements to deliver the natural language query capability and advice workflows.

This project was led by Informed Solutions with Environment Systems’ SENCE (Spatial Evidence for Natural Capital Evaluation) product delivering the natural capital evaluation mapping and ecological scenario modelling. A third partner, LandInform, looked after the policy and data context within which SNH and its stakeholders operate to ensure better use of the data in helping SNH customers.

The partnership of Informed Solutions, Environment Systems and LandInform offers an unrivalled convergence of expertise and experience in digital technology, data analytics and systems integration combined with a deep understanding of environmental data and natural capital models. There is significant potential for future development, both in the UK and across the globe.

Drone Season

It’s that time of year again and we are carrying out a lot of drone surveys for customers both in the UK and in North America.

Environment Systems has been using drones for over five years and in that time sensor and platform technology has continuously evolved delivering improved spatial and spectral resolution along with greatly extended flight times. We continue to embrace new technical advances and are expanding our drone operator network. Today, our data processing workflows enable us to process and deliver analysis ready maps and analytics to our customers fast.

Drones are useful for capturing the detail required for crop trials and other detailed analyses. Crop trial analysis can cover a number of different parameters including, nitrogen, crop variety, crop treatment and sowing width. We process the data and deliver it to customers in a number of different ways including business intelligence data dashboards.

Crop trial plots
Crop trial plots lend themselves to detailed analysis by drones
As well as crop trials, we are also involved in a significant field scale mapping project in the east of England. We are using drones and commercial satellites to monitor the control of black-grass in crop rotation across a number of different crop types. We provide our customers with fully processed analysis ready data throughout the season, at key black- grass growth stages.

Another project is carrying out an analysis of grassland pasture in Wales to assess productivity over time. The project compares our drone imagery with Sentinel-1 and -2 satellite imagery, delivered via our Data Services platform. This is a two-year project with the goal of developing a ‘hands free’ online tool to help farmers estimate average grass cover and reduce the need to go out into the field to collect data, a time consuming and onerous activity.

Sphere – Spring 2020

Message from the Directors

As this issue of Sphere goes to press we thought it would be a good idea to let you know how we are responding to the COVID-19 situation. Placing our staff at the heart of all our decision-making we are all now working from home, ensuring maximum flexibility especially for those with children. As an evidence and insight business we are fully operational with secure access to all our data and technology. Enhanced risk assessments are now in place which means that we are working and here to help. Please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Steve and Graeme

Contents

Project News

Afforestation – Tree Suitability Modelling
Forests 2020 – Soy Mapping
Woodland Trust Data Portal
Bat Houses

Company News

Cyber Essentials
Staff News

Project News

Afforestation – Tree Suitability Modelling

The UK Government has set a target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The target requires all sectors of the UK economy, including agriculture and forestry, to make contributions. In 2019, the Committee for Climate Change (CCC) commissioned a study to investigate the application of spatial modelling to tree species and site selection in Wales to see if its ambition of planting 152,000 ha in Wales was feasible.

The project focused on one coniferous (Sitka Spruce) and one broadleaved (Sessile Oak) tree species. The project built on draft modelling outputs from the Welsh Government Capability, Suitability and Climate Programme, where Environment Systems worked in collaboration with Cranfield University and ADAS to spatially model differences in land suitability for growing 118 crops.

The afforestation case study evaluated land suitability for Sessile Oak and Sitka Spruce based on biophysical properties alone, and in combination with legal and policy constraints to tree planting. Spatial modelling and statistical analysis were undertaken for the present day, and for four future climate change scenarios; 2050 and 2080, under medium and high greenhouse gas emissions.

Oak planting suitability in Wales
Suitability of planting oak today and under a medium emissions scenario by 2050
This project utilised Agricultural Land Classification data, which considers different aspects of climate and soil properties, and assigns grades for each environmental factor. This ranks the quality of the land in terms of soil wetness, droughtiness, stoniness and rockiness, in addition to steepness of slope and overall climate of a location. This dataset was supplemented by additional modelling carried out by Environment Systems to include frost risk, wind exposure and salt spray effects. Natural Resources Wales flood risk data were also incorporated into the models.

Biophysical factors are clearly vital for understanding where it is possible to grow crops. However, legal and policy decisions also exert a very real effect on the land available for growing crops. The project considered significant constraints to tree planting, such as areas of deep peat and priority habitats where tree planting is not currently possible (or desirable). It also considered ‘sensitivities’ such as historic and open access land, where tree planting may be possible, however, additional planning and consultation may be required.

The modelling revealed that the CCC tree-planting ambition for Wales is achievable however, it is likely to require the use of land that is less than biophysically ideal, and which is likely to be under pressure from competing land uses such as agriculture and energy generation. Significantly, it questions whether the target is sufficient to achieve the level of climate mitigation required, given the likely slower growth rates of trees on limited suitability land.

The full report can be accessed here.

Forests 2020 – Soy Mapping

Forests 2020 is a major investment by the UK Space Agency, as part of the International Partnerships Programme (IPP). Project managed by Ecometrica, Forests 2020 uses advanced mapping technologies, satellite data and other insights to help protect and restore tropical forests through improved forest monitoring. Ecometrica has partnered with Environment Systems to deliver an automated and scalable approach to mapping soybeans in Brazil.
Brazil possesses about one third of the world’s remaining rainforests, covering almost 60% of the country’s surface. It is also the largest soybean producer and expected to export 77 million tons of soybeans in 2020.

Western Bahia was identified as the pilot area, a region of Brazil characterised by large scale intensive agriculture, the majority of which is soybean cultivation. Here the rainy season stretches from October through to April, during which time soybeans are the principal crop, being sown from October and fully harvested by the end of March.

Soy Classification
A section of the classification in the pilot area showing areas of soy and non-soy
On this project we used our own Data Services to acquire the necessary Sentinel satellite data. The field level mapping approach required field boundary data. This was created using our own machine learning algorithm which automatically generated over 18,500 field boundaries covering an area of over 80,000 km². Radar satellite imagery was also acquired for the 2019-20 growing season generating a ‘soybean profile’ for each field showing how it grows over time.

To develop and test the map and achieve higher levels of crop classification accuracy, field work was required to verify the crop on the ground and thus provide additional ‘training’ points for the algorithm. Environment Systems surveyors collected over 1,100 data points. These points were applied to the field boundaries and satellite data to produce an automated classification with an accuracy of over 90%.

Following on from the pilot, the approach was rolled out in another of Brazil’s intensive agriculture regions, Mato Grosso. Almost 45,000 field boundaries were generated and an area of 100,000 km² was successfully mapped, identifying all the soya production, at a field scale, without the need for any field surveys. The maps are now accessible online via Ecometrica’s EOLab platform. You can find out more about Forests 2020 here.

Woodland Trust Data Portal

The Woods for People project, initiated by the Woodland Trust in 2002 in partnership with the Forestry Commission, with support from the Environment and Heritage Service provides access to accessible woodland data. The aim was to produce a comprehensive inventory of accessible woodland across the UK to improve public access and use. Since 2003 Environment Systems has been involved in the annual data collection and maintenance for this project. The process involves contacting woodland owners and managers by email, telephone and post to update the data held by the Trust.

Woodland Trust Data Portal
Woodland Trust Data portal with editable map polygons

In 2019, Environment Systems was commissioned to develop an online portal to enable woodland owners to manage their data themselves. The portal has been set up to send out automated reminders every year to request that woodland holdings and contact information are checked and updated if necessary. Since its launch, the portal has reduced the number of those needing to be contacted by half. Data collected through the portal is fed into the Trust’s central database which powers the ‘Find a wood’ section of the Trust’s website. Members of the public can enter a location and see all the woods with open access in that area.

Bat Houses

A large part of the work the Environment Systems ecology team carries out involves bat surveys of buildings requiring renovation, demolition, restoration or conversion. This usually involves daytime inspections and bat activity surveys at dusk or dawn to identify and characterise any bat roosts present, as well as the species and the number involved. Environment Systems has successfully obtained over 100 European protected species (EPS) licences to enable work around bat roosts to take place. This involves the design and implementation of bat mitigation measures, including providing replacement bat roosts and subsequent population monitoring.

Recently we undertook dusk and dawn activity surveys around a dilapidated Grade II farmhouse that was scheduled for restoration. The surveys recorded activity from nine species, which included foraging, commuting, and social behaviour. Soprano pipistrelle bats were confirmed as present in the building as they were seen emerging from and entering access points in six locations, along ridge tiles and under a loose slate tile. A lesser horseshoe bat was seen roosting within the building during the day time inspection. An EPS license was granted by Natural Resources Wales which enabled mitigation work to be carried out. The design of mitigation was considered as the long-term for the site as a whole including the outbuildings that are present on site that will be renovated in the future.

Bat House
A former store was used, a cooling tower installed as well as baffles in the rafters

A dilapidated former store that had no bat interest was identified and proposed as a purpose-built two storey bat house, including a cooling tower with baffles that will provide a range of different conditions for horseshoe and long-eared species to roost all year round. Our lead bat surveyor was on site during the works to provide toolbox talks to contractors and advice throughout construction. The bat house was completed in December 2019. Population monitoring will continue for the next couple of years as part of the license condition.

Company News

Cyber Essentials

Cyber EssentialsWe have just achieved Cyber Essentials accreditation. Cyber Essentials is a Government backed scheme that has helped Environment Systems implement protection against cyber attack. The accreditation we now have demonstrates that we take our cyber security seriously and certifies that we have put suitable protections in place.

The accreditation assessment focuses on five basic security controls which, when properly implemented, help to protect against internet-based attacks.

Staff News



Justa Hopma
Justa HopmaJusta recently joined Environment Systems as Partnership Coordinator for the EO4Cultivar project in South America. Prior to joining Environment Systems, she worked as business and strategy manager at AA International, an agri-tech organisation active in ground-truthing and farmer training in eastern Africa and the Middle East. Justa has a PhD in political science and human geography and certificates in soil management and tropical agriculture.



Sphere – Winter 2019-20

Welcome

In this winter edition of Sphere we see how our work is underpinning green infrastructure strategies in South Wales. We learn too how the UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme is delivering cost-effective space-based solutions for agriculture in emerging and developing economies. This programme includes our EO4cultivar project in Latin America, which is being extended. We are also proud to announce our moves to balance our own carbon footprint by working with World Land Trust. We are now a Carbon Balanced company. The 2020 ecological survey season is upon us, here we provide you with a timely reminder.

Contents

Project News

Implementing Green Infrastructure Strategies
Space-Based Solutions in Agriculture Prove Their Worth
EO4cultivar Expansion

Company News

We are Carbon Balanced!
2020 Ecological Survey Season Gets Underway
Staff News

Project News

Implementing Green Infrastructure Strategies

The Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, Planning (Wales) Act 2015, and Environment (Wales) Act 2016, set out Wales’ approach to planning and managing natural resources at national and local levels, through sustainable management of natural resources and sustainable development. For urban areas, this legislation includes a focus on Green Infrastructure (GI), which can deliver benefits from a wide range of ecosystem services, from human health and well-being to natural flood management.

A good example of Welsh Local Authorities (LA) acting to further enhance the management of their GI assets has occurred in South Wales, where action arising from Public Service Board partnerships led to the development of a regional GI project. LA officers for Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, Swansea Council, and Bridgend County Borough Council have come together with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Public Health Wales to develop a framework for delivery of GI. Environment Systems was commissioned to identify GI opportunities for the three local authorities by incorporating locally relevant data and scrutiny of national scale ecosystem service mapping carried out for NRW under the project GIS for Area Statements. Multi-opportunity mapping was one of the key outputs of this project; these maps show areas where establishing or restoring a natural habitat, such as woodland, has the potential to enhance multiple ecosystem services.

Multiple Benefits from Woodland Planting
Woodland Planting Opportunities Map

In the months since the delivery of these maps, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council has used the multi-opportunity maps to identify locations for action on the ground. In the ‘multiple benefits from woodland planting map (above) they identified an area of council-owned land that was modelled to benefit from enhanced tree cover. Field staff could validate that the area had a strong demand for the services that would benefit from tree-planting for example through a reduction of overland flow and improved air quality. In addition, through a community engagement process, a local improvement plan was developed, including planting and access improvements, which is being used to inform a programme of improvement works at the site. This is a great example of how Environment Systems’ ecosystem service modelling can make a real difference to local communities through proactive land management by local councils. Similar projects have taken place in Swansea and Bridgend, delivering a range of GI improvements across the region.

Space-Based Solutions in Agriculture Prove Their Worth

A recent report prepared by London Economics and Caribou Space, for the UK Space Agency (UKSA), has found that space-based satellite Earth observation solutions for agriculture can be six times more cost-effective than non-space alternatives such as drones, field patrols, and extension workers tasked with providing farmers with training and support.

The UKSA’s International Partnership Programme (IPP) is a 5 year, £30m per year programme, focusing on using the UK space sector’s research and innovation strengths to deliver sustainable economic and societal benefits, to emerging and developing economies around the world. The programme includes a number of projects focused on agriculture. Space- based solutions are particularly suited to addressing some modern challenges such as increased population, climate change, and poor yields in staple crops such as wheat and rice. Space-based solutions cover three specific areas:

  • Decision support tools
  • Early warning systems-early detection and mitigation of events such as drought
  • Farming credits, based on data collected for farmers in the developing world
ICA Region Peru
Near infrared satellite imagery – ICA Region, Peru

The cost-effectiveness in the report is measured in terms of the absolute value of the change in crop yield (£), and is dependent on the relative costs of data collection. The forward-looking analysis shows that agri-businesses can act on the intelligence derived from satellite data on yield or risk, whereas non-space solutions rely on farmers responding to guidance.

Environment Systems is proud to have been leading EO4cultivar, one of the 33 projects run in 44 countries since the IPP’s inception in 2016. The project has recently been expanded, see ‘EO4cultivar Expansion’ below. The delivery of satellite-derived agricultural data to agri-businesses, supply chain organisations, and smallholders is addressing risk management, supply chain visibility, crop yields, crop input management and showing great promise.

EO4cultivar Expansion

Since 2016 we have been leading a UK Space Agency International Partnership Programme project called EO4cultivar, providing Earth observation (EO) data for use in decision-making in agricultural supply chains, supporting crop production, and managing risk, originally in Peru and Colombia. The project operates as a consortium with partners across the UK and Latin America.

Banana growers
Engaging with smallholders

Recent expansion of the EO4cultivar project will enable an increase in the speed of scale up, expansion into new markets, new countries, and new crop varieties. This will increase the development benefits and delivery of all aspects of sustainability, including:

  • Extending the geographic area of the project into Paraguay, Mexico, Ecuador, and the Caribbean
  • Delivering our data services via a number of established online platforms
  • Investigating the move further up the agricultural supply chain into retail
  • Engaging with national government, to encourage the use of digital land parcel databases and crop statistics to support sustainable development
  • Demonstrating the capability to deliver field scale data to smallholders using data from very high-resolution satellites


The expansion will build upon the Environment Systems Agri-track suite of crop monitoring and forecasting products and EO4cultivar technical developments; fast tracking the expansion and commercialisation of our data product solutions.

Company News

We are Carbon Balanced!

World Land Trust - Carbon BalancedIn the previous issue of Sphere we featured the results of our latest BS8555 inspection (Reducing our Environmental Impact). As part of this process we have been estimating our unavoidable carbon emissions with the aim to maintain an awareness of our environmental impact.

In line with the increasing threat posed by the climate crisis, as well as our staff-owned ethics policy and its commitment to actively support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, it was agreed to investigate options for offsetting the company’s carbon emissions.

Carbon 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. Our investigations led us to World Land Trust (WLT) and we have been working with them to achieve a Carbon Balanced status.

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 aligns with Environment System’s company ethos of being ready to adapt in line with advances in science.

Since we have been making strides to reduce our carbon emissions for a number of years, WLT were able to use the figures from our annual BS8555 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.

2020 Ecological Survey Season Gets Underway

Through the winter months our team of ecologists have been hard at work processing the data and writing reports for the pre-planning stages of four onshore wind farms in Wales, and starting hibernation surveys for the gold mine we covered in the Summer 2019 issue of Sphere. Other work includes the design and development of two new ‘bat houses’ which we will be covering in a forthcoming issue. Meanwhile, the 2020 ecological survey season is now underway and we are already getting bookings. Our team of ecologists are licensed to carry out protected species surveys for bats, great crested newts, dormice, otters etc. using the latest techniques and technology.

In the UK there are 18 different species of bats, all are protected by UK law. Bats live in numerous places known as roosts; these range from caves, cliffs, trees, lofts, barns, or abandoned buildings. Bats live in areas where they can safely hibernate, raise their young, and find a plentiful source of food (insects) and water. Bats’ requirements change throughout the year so they move around to find the optimum place or setting.

Legislation demands that any structures or places which bats use for shelter or resting are protected from damage or destruction whether currently occupied or not. This legislation is generally incorporated into planning policies, which means that local planning authorities have a legal obligation to decide whether bats are likely to be affected by a development. They may only determine this from a bat survey. We try to make booking a bat survey as simple as possible through our ‘Book-a-bat’ facility.

Ecological Survey Calendar 2020
Our Ecology Calendar provides a guide for the best times to carry out ecological surveys for particular species

Download it here.

Staff News



Amy Richards
Amy RichardsAmy joined us recently as a Data Science Analyst having completed work experience with us in 2018. She has a BSc in Mathematics/Computer Science and has just completed her MSc in Data Science, both at Aberystwyth University.



Dario González
Dario GonzálezDario González, has recently joined us as Latin America Commercial Manager, based in Bogota. A specialist in creative intervention, product design and business development, he has been working with farmer communities and supply chains through his work with Cultivando Futuro, the first community information system in Colombia aimed at smallholder farmers.



Sphere – Autumn 2019

Welcome

In this issue of Sphere we look at light pollution mapping for biodiversity planning, the relationship between agri-environment frameworks and the maintenance of SSSIs, mapping grassland by satellite and a new Oil Seed Rape (OSR) analytics product. At this time of year we are under scrutiny ourselves and we report on our latest BS 8555 inspection and how we are aiming to reduce our own impact on the environment. News too of our entry onto the Government’s ‘Digital Marketplace’ and in particular the ‘G-Cloud,’ the special framework for ‘Cloud’ hosting, software and support. Last but not least our regular update on promotions and new starters at Environment Systems.

Contents

Project News

Light Pollution Mapping for Biodiversity Planning
Agri-Environment Monitoring
Mapping Grassland by Satellite

Company News

Oil Seed Rape Analytics
Reducing our Environmental Impact
G-Cloud
Staff News

Project News

Light Pollution Mapping for Biodiversity Planning

Understanding dark skies is important for nocturnal species conservation. For example, certain species of bat, many of which are rare and have declining populations. By having strategic knowledge about dark skies at a regional level, it becomes possible to plan mitigation and development activities to enhance the area for these species. Dark night skies are also an important landscape feature protecting the nocturnal environment, not only for nature, but also for education, cultural heritage, and public enjoyment.

We have recently undertaken a project for Pembrokeshire County Council and Natural Resources Wales, looking at how we can obtain a strategic landscape view of dark skies and bat populations. The project used newly accessible satellite data and available street lamp data to demonstrate dark sky areas throughout Pembrokeshire. The aim was to raise awareness of light pollution and its impact on biodiversity and provide a tool to evidence policy, inform development and land use. Using these data would also enable mitigation in many cases simply by reducing light pollution in the most sensitive areas.

Light pollution data
Optical satellite light pollution data overlaid with street lamp light pollution data

Calibration of the satellite data was necessary to split marine and terrestrial environments due to exceptionally busy shipping lanes around Milford Haven, producing light out at sea. Street lamp data was available from Pembrokeshire County Council. By taking the location of the street lamps and the types of lamp it was possible to match the existing pollution level to the radiance values in the satellite data creating a mapping layer of dark skies and light pollution.

The next stage of the project focused on generating a biodiversity sensitivity layer. For this project, local bat species data, with details on hibernating, maternity, plus day and night roosting sites, was used. Whilst the impacts of artificial light pollution on plants and wildlife are generally understood, it is now being recognised as being more significant to land use planning and development design. Combining the light and bat species data together delivers information that will assist local authorities in providing advice for better land management and development in relation to the effects of light pollution on biodiversity.


Agri-Environment Monitoring

honeybeeIn the Spring 2019 issue of Sphere we covered some of the projects that we, as part of a consortium with CCRI (Countryside and Community Research Institute) and Land Use Consultants, were working on under the Defra/Natural England ESME (Environmental Stewardship Monitoring and Evaluation) framework.

One of these focused on SSSIs (Site of Specific Scientific Interest) and the contribution which agri-environment schemes (AES) make to the maintenance and improvement of their condition. SSSIs represent some of the best of England’s biodiversity sites and it is important to Defra and Natural England to be able to evaluate the contribution that agri-environment schemes make in delivering for biodiversity when they occur on SSSIs. The results of our research were recently presented via a very successful webinar attended by over 65 Defra and Natural England staff.

Whilst there is a great deal of data from both an ecological condition perspective and on the undertaking of different AES programmes, including the various tiers within them, we found that the two areas are not well aligned. There was evidence that AES were improving SSSI habitats in some cases, through the increased likelihood of positive management activity. However the studies do not generally separate SSSI and non-SSSI features in their analyses. There were also large gaps in the evidence. It does suggest that a greater integration of the monitoring of AES and SSSIs is required in order to establish a causal link between AES and SSSI condition. For this, a more targeted approach to sampling would be best suited to both AES and SSSIs.


Mapping Grassland by Satellite

This pilot project is establishing the potential of using satellite remote sensing to inform grassland management and predict grass yield in Welsh pasture systems. Why might you want to do this? Grass is an essential crop in livestock production. Unfortunately, around half of the grass grown in Wales is not utilised efficiently. Grazed grass is the cheapest and most efficient form of feed on farms and when managed well, inputs and production costs can be reduced, therefore boosting profit margins.

Measuring and monitoring grass growth enables farmers to improve quality and maximise yield. As part of the ongoing Welsh Pasture Project, a number of farms are using a plate meter to measure growth and quantity of available Dry Matter per hectare (DM/ha) across their farm, to monitor growth during the season. There are varying degrees of enthusiasm for this activity as it is labour intensive and very time consuming. There is an opportunity to use satellite data, with Environment Systems developing algorithms that can predict average grass cover (Kg DMA/Ha) with the eventual aim of developing a ‘hands free’ online tool to help farmers estimate average grass cover and reduce the need to go out into the field and collect data.

Grassland Mapping

The project utilised farmers plate meter data collected across nine cross-sector farms, located throughout Wales. To date, we have achieved positive correlations with the satellite radar data. The image (above) shows field parcels with grass cover modelled from satellite imagery, for 15th September 2019. The chart on the left shows how well our grass cover model (orange) matches actual data (blue) over time.

“The technology has the potential to support farmers across Wales to make informed decisions on grass management based on actual grass growth and data. Additionally, this information will be able to provide trends on individual field performance over a number of years therefore allowing farmers to compare against previous years and other fields on the farm. This information could help in deciding which fields to reseed based on performance, therefore avoiding unnecessary reseeding expense,” said Dewi Hughes, Technical Development Manager for Farming Connect.

The Welsh Pasture Project is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government. The Farming Connect Knowledge Transfer Programme and Advisory Service are delivered by Menter a Busnes on behalf of Welsh Government. Environment Systems has been working with Menter a Busnes and IBERS (Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences)at Aberystwyth University. The project featured on the BBC’s S4C programme, Ffermio in July.


Company News

Oil Seed Rape Analytics

Having worked with Sentinel satellite data for a number of years, facilitated by our own Environment Systems Data Services, a number of new product development opportunities have come to light. This has enabled us to provide customers with regular insights and data over time, one of which is our oil seed rape (OSR) analytics product.

OSR Dashboard
OSR analytics delivered through a Business Intelligence dashboard

For many farmers, particularly on heavier soils, black-grass is an increasing problem and the widespread use of metaldehyde slug pellets and residual herbicides, particularly in OSR, can lead to a higher risk of water pollution in many drinking water catchment areas. Phosphate from agriculture enters water primarily through soil erosion and surface run-off. A water company, for example, needs to know precisely where OSR is being grown in order to understand where there might be a problem and in order to engage with farmers and incentivise them to change some of their farming practices.

Our OSR analytics product provides information on the percentage cover of OSR by water catchment, location of fields, rotation over time, and proximity to the river network. Underlying this is a map detailing field- by-field, the location of all the OSR growing in Great Britain during June 2019. This is derived directly from Sentinel satellite data using algorithms developed in house and delivered through Business Intelligence software.


Reducing our Environmental Impact

We have been monitoring our own impact on the environment for over five years employing an Environmental Management System (EMS) to BS 8555. The EMS enables us to control, monitor and improve our environmental performance. Accreditation also improves our credibility as environmental consultants.

Over the past year we have made significant strides by:
BS 8555 Environmental Management

  • Reducing the number of flights and increasing our use of public transport
  • Reducing our CO2 by 16%, (13,400 kg of carbon)
  • Monitoring our utility meters to stop wastage
  • Stabilising our consumption of electricity
  • Cutting our consumption of gas for heating
  • Reducing the amount of waste we sent to landfill by 23%

We are now focusing on all the things individuals, in the business, can do to reduce our environmental impact.


G-Cloud

Carys SelmanThe Digital Marketplace is an online service provided by the Government for public sector organisations to find people and technology for digital projects. Within the Digital Marketplace is a special framework for ‘Cloud’ hosting, software and support which is called the G-Cloud.

We have embraced the opportunity that the G-Cloud offers to give our government customers access to our Data Services providing on-demand analysis-ready satellite data, environment, and agricultural metrics. Any public sector organisation can buy from us through the G-Cloud. You can search for us here.


Staff News



Laura Cottrell
Laura CottrellLaura has been working with us since 2015 and has just been promoted to head up our Ecology Services. Over the last four years she has been involved in the full range of our work in renewable energy, artisanal mining and Book-a- Bat services. Laura has a 1st in Environmental Biology and an MSc in Environmental Consultancy.



Maximilian Friedersdorff
Max FriedersdorffMax has joined us as a Software Developerfor Environment Systems Data Services working particularly on the automation of data product feeds to our customers. Before joining us, Max worked as a System Administrator and Software Developer for The Institute ofBiological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS).



Stevan Howe
Stevan HoweStevan has recently joined us and is working on remote sensing products for the agricultural sector in Peru and Colombia as part of the EO4cultivar project team. Being able to speak Spanish is proving invaluable, linking the team here in the UK with Spanish speaking partners in Latin America.



Carys Selman
Carys SelmanCarys is a Physical Geography graduate from the University of Reading, who completed work experience with us in the summer of 2018 and has now returned as a full time GIS and Mapping Analyst.