Sphere Newsletter

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Sphere – Spring 2019

Sphere Newsletter Spring 2019


In this issue of Sphere we cover agri-environment monitoring, coastal monitoring and how we are helping to enhance environmental protection in the Caribbean. As we approach the bat survey season we take a look at some recent work. Lastly we review how drone data capture is making an impact in agricultural applications.


Project News

LANDMAP – A National Landscape Resource for Wales
Coastal Monitoring
Enhancing Environmental Protection
Agri-Environment Monitoring and Evaluation


Bat Surveys
Drone Data Analysis

Project News

LANDMAP – A National Landscape Resource for Wales

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

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

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

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

Coastal Monitoring

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

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

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

Enhancing Environmental Protection for the Turks & Caicos Islands and British Virgin Islands

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

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

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

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

Agri-Environment Monitoring and Evaluation

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

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

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

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


Bat Surveys

Over the past twelve months we have been involved in numerous projects, including two large-scale wind farms, a gold mine, various barn, church, bird hide, house conversion and renovation projects. The wind farm projects have involved our surveyors walking numerous bat activity transects covering over 270 km of heathland, bog, coniferous and broadleaved woodland, pasture and grasslands. Sound recordings confirmed at least eight clearly identifiable bat species.

Bats caught and released
Brown long-eared (left) and lesser horseshoe bat caught and released during recent swarming surveys

At the gold mine we have just finished completing the hibernation surveys and before this we carried out a combination of automated remote detector surveys at the mine’s working entrances (adits) combined with harp trapping and mist netting surveys. The swarming surveys that were carried out clearly identified the most used mine entrances. The surveys demonstrate how the mines are being used in close proximity to nearby designated sites for lesser horseshoe bats. This enabled us to assist in the preparation of a European Protected Species license application and method statement for the remedial works to several parts of the mine. Without the bat survey work it is not possible for the other environmental and structural survey works to be completed. A planning application is currently in preparation and will be submitted later this year to re-open the mine.

The volume of data recorded during these projects (800 GB+) meant we had to follow a rigid quality assurance process when assigning species prior to statistical analysis. Taking a statistical approach (using R-Studio analysis software), delivers more robust and useful information to the wind farm and mine engineers.

Drone Data Analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sphere – Winter 2018

Sphere Newsletter Winter 2018


In this issue of Sphere we have news of a major project for Welsh Government that will help improve land use decision making under a number of different climate change scenarios. We look at greenspace accessibility in the West of England and landscape monitoring in Dorset. News too of new ways to access our Data Services products directly from your GIS. The festive season is upon us so we would like to take this opportunity to send all our readers our very best wishes for a peaceful Christmas and a prosperous 2019.


Project News

Capability, Suitability and Climate Programme for Wales
From Imagery to Data
Greenspace Accessibility
Landscape Monitoring in Dorset

Company News

WMS and QGIS plugin for Environment Systems Data Services
Team Building Day
Adam Murphy


Project News


Capability, Suitability and Climate Programme for Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


From Imagery to Data

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

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

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

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


Greenspace Accessibility

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

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

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


Landscape Monitoring in Dorset

Monitoring change is important for many reasons, and for those working in planning, development and environmental management it can be crucial in ensuring that the characteristics of an area are maintained or enhanced. Earlier this year Environment Systems was commissioned to undertake up-to-date analyses of the natural, built and historic environments, and to identify the different types of change that have taken place since 2007. The study focused on the Dorset area, specifically in the Dorset AONB and an extended area including parts of Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset.

The Dorset AONB
Dorset – rich in history with a varied landscape, featuring, broad elevated chalk downs, limestone ridges and spectacular coastal scenery

Initially our work focused on the natural environment. Detailed Phase 1 habitat data existed for part of the study area, but there were large gaps in coverage which we had to fill to create a seamless map. We achieved this using remote sensing image analysis of Sentinel-1/2 data and image segmentation using a classification rule-base to identify the basic land cover types. These includednarable, improved grassland, semi-improved grassland, heath, scrub, urban, water, wetland and woodland. In addition, we created habitat connectivity layers for the four key networks: heathland, grassland, woodland and wetland, via landscape permeability analysis.

The built environment presented a different set of challenges because the project required us to not only provide spatial data for the total urban extent in 2007 and 2017 with a range of comparisons but also for a number of features of interest including quarries, pylons, wind turbines, solar farms, caravan and camping sites, and car parks.

Additionally, we provided statistics and spatial data summarising areas that make up the historic environment. These included scheduled monuments, listed buildings, conservation areas, parks and gardens and designed landscapes. This was achieved using data from Historic England and Natural England.

Understanding how habitats have changed over time is important in an AONB especially from a planning perspective. We carried habitat change detection analysis by comparing the current habitat map against older data, and where no previous habitat data existed, through statistical analysis of satellite image data to identify changes in the reflectance characteristics over time.

Much of the data will be shared via DorsetExplorer, Dorset County Council’s publicly accessible mapping portal.


Company News


WMS and QGIS plugin for Environment Systems Data Services

WMS + QGIS Plugin
You can now subscribe to a WMS feed for Environment Systems Data Services making it easier and more convenient to access the data available.

In addition you can now view our open data instantly in QGIS by using our latest plugin (beta release). This plugin brings you all the functionality available through our web interface, including the premium service. Just add this repository to your QGIS plugins, and you’re ready to go – https://data.envsys.co.uk/static/qgis/plugins.xml

If you need some ideas on how you can use our free open data, visit our Demonstrator and to find out more about Environment Systems Data Services, visit – https://data.envsys.co.uk/


Team Building Day

Team Building DayOnce a year we down tools and staff assemble to take part in team building activities. This provides us with a chance to get to know each other better, work frantically and competitively in teams on some practical task that is both fun and challenging. Two years ago we set about litter picking on Aberystwyth beach, last year we built bug hotels. In October we travelled to some remote Forestry Commission woodland near Aberystwyth, and the site of a Scout activity centre. Having split into 4 teams we tackled, fire lighting, archery, rifle shooting, catapult building and tent erection. Despite rather dank weather a great day was had by all finished off by drinks and dinner back in Aberystwyth.


Adam Murphy

Adam MurphyAdam joined us in the summer as an ornithologist working with our Ecology team. He has a BSc in Biology from the University of Exeter and an MSc in Ecology from Lund University, Sweden.

Before joining us he worked in Turkey for Doğa Derneği (Birdlife Turkey) as a Biodiversity Assessment Officer. Previous positions include Researcher in Madagascar (Society for Environmental Exploration), Information Officer (RSPB & Yorkshire Dales National Park).

Sphere – Autumn 2018


In this bumper edition of Sphere we are focusing on our Environment Systems Data Services which has been operating for the last two and a half years. As well as providing third parties with a rich vein of analysis-ready satellite data this availability is also having a considerable impact on our own and other collaborative projects. The prospects are very exciting. This issue also marks the launch of ‘eSphere’ which is delivered by email; read on to find out more. [email protected]


Company News

BS 8555
Expo Agrofuturo
Ecosystems in a Changing World
Rob Rokosz

Data Services Focus

Satellites In Agriculture
Improving Agricultural Practice
Monitoring on a National Scale
Habitat Mapping for Onshore Wind Farms
Potato Crop Identification
More Automation Better Interpretation


BS 8555

BS 8555Environment Systems has an Environment Management System(EMS) which is accredited to BS8555:2003 Phase 2. An EMS serves as a tool to improve our environmental performance, quite important for our credibility as an environment and agricultural data consultancy! The EMS provides a framework for how our performance can be monitored, controlled and improved. We have just passed our annual inspection. Over the years we have faced environmental challenges as the Company has grown and moved into larger premises. We are constantly alive to the challenges we face in improving our performance. During 2017- 18 we have:

  • Reduced the amount of waste generated per person by 17%
  • Reduced the amount of waste that went into landfill by 13%
  • Recycled 3.4 times the amount of waste going into landfill
  • Achieved a ratio of nearly 1:6 between waste going to landfill, and waste being composted



eSphere - Email newsletterWe send out this newsletter by post four times a year and have done since 2011. We’ve always wanted to reach a wider audience but been wary of adding yet another newsletter to our clients’ and contacts’ inboxes. That said a numberof people have asked if Sphere was available by email or online. Sphere has always been available online as a viewable and downloadable PDF but we thought it might be time to make an email version. Our compliance with GDPR means that we will only send to those who want to receive it or who have signed up to receive news from us. If you want to change your subscription to receive eSphere please email: [email protected]


Expo Agrofuturo

AGROFUTURO 2018In August we travelled as part of a delegation from the Department of International Trade to showcase British companies, on the British Embassy stand at Agrofuturo 2018 which took place in Bogotá, Colombia in August. This well-attended event focuses on the agriculture sector and is considered to be the leading business and knowledge event for the Agro industry in Latin America. On the stand we presented our Data Services products and SENCE natural capital solutions.

Our Senior EO & Business Consultant, Pascale Bodevin, featured in a promotional video (youtu. be/NMd3PRu16hk) for the event explaining how Environment Systems was using EO in the EO4cultivar project.



International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS 2018)The EO4cultivar project that Environment Systems is leading in Peru and Colombia provides for three fully funded PhD studentships in the UK. One of these, Christian Silva, presented a paper at the recent International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS 2018), which took place in Valencia, Spain in July. Christian’s paper covered the use of Sentinel 1 ‘polarimetry’ (PolSAR) data and its role in improving the monitoring of agricultural fields, identification
of specific crop conditions, growth stage and change detection. Polarimetry deals with the way that radar ‘backscatter’ is related to geophysical properties on the ground.


Ecosystems in a Changing World

Ecosystem Service Partnership - Ecosystems in a Changing WorldKatie Medcalf, our Environment Director, together with Natural Resources Wales (NRW) will be presenting at the ESP (Ecosystem Services Partnership) Conference being held in San Sebastian, Spain in October (espconference.org/eu2018/). The Conference is organised under the theme: ‘Ecosystem services in a changing world: moving from theory to practice’. The conference is considering how ecosystems are essential to human wellbeing and will bring together practitioners to grow understanding of ecosystem functions and services to meet the demand from both policy makers
and practitioners for guidance on how to implement ecosystem services.

In the joint presentation ‘Mapping ecosystem services in Wales for health, well-being
and environmental resilience at a local to country scale’ we will focus on our work in the mapping and modelling of ecosystem services in Wales. Identifying areas with opportunities to enhance ecosystem services where there is a high demand. This data is a key information source to underpin the work of NRW to meet the Welsh Environment Act (2016). The talk will will conclude by demonstrating how the maps are being used in practice at a local level with communities and stakeholder groups.


Rob Rokosz

Rob RokoszRob joined us this summer as a software developer, adding expertise and experience to our growing software team. Previously Rob has worked as a software engineer in the retail sector and more recently at DVLA in Swansea. He has a degree in Computer Science from the University of Wales, Swansea. Rob is working within our Data Services team splitting his time between software development and project based software support.


Data Services Focus

There has been huge growth in the availability of satellite data in recent years. In most instances the data remains expensive and in the hands of the specialists. The Copernicus Sentinel program has opened up many opportunities to bring Earth Observation (EO) data into the mainstream. We have taken advantage of this open data source and for the past two and a half years made some of it available via Environment Systems Data Services. Our Data Services remove the hassle of managing and processing terabytes of data; users simply choose a product, an area of interest, a chosen point in time or time series and downloads the data in a ready-to-use format.

Sentinel 1 Composite Image - February 2018
UK – February 2018 – Sentinel-1 composite image – light blue colour is grassland and forests, dark blue less productive upland vegetation, orange denotes cropland and bright yellow, urban areas. Monthly composites like this can underpin regional monitoring, revealing changes to vegetation across the year.

Analysis-ready-data means that organisations can start to benefit from the insights any analysis delivers immediately, without any of the up front heavy lifting. Making this data readily available via an API also means that organisations with their own applications or platforms can simply plug themselves in and automatically ingest data directly and in high volumes. We are also providing consultancy and bespoke product development to help our customers make the most of the opportunities this rich new source of data offers.


Satellites in Agriculture

Satellites in Agriculture (SiA) is a collaborative R&D project undertaken by Ecometrica, Environment Systems and Rothamsted Research. With funding from Innovate UK, the project has developed wall-to-wall applications of Sentinel EO derived information products for environmental compliance and productivity monitoring in agriculture.

Within the agricultural sector as a whole, there are a number of potential EO applications, including:

  • Broad-scale monitoring of changes to agricultural production and land use
  • Information about the interface between agriculture and natural ecosystems
  • Commercial data about crops and varieties, leading to production estimates
  • Risk, suitability and change information
  • Precise, timely information for agri-businesses to inform on water and agrochemical requirements, and the optimal timing of operations

The current market for EO derived information products in agriculture is growing fast. Leveraging the increased availability of data and cloud computing capacity presents an exciting opportunity to bring these data products into the mainstream.

Estimated crop cover of potato fields in July (left) and September. Red is bare soil, Dark green full cover and shades between indicating more/less crop cover, important for evaluating harvest timing and planning for desiccant application.

The result of our work on this project so far is a fully automated API-driven processing chain which delivers data products routinely for Rothamsted through EOLab, Ecometrica’s web based application platform. An API means that other application platforms can access our data products too. Having developed the highly scalable workflow the project then went onto to deliver ready to use data products that include:

Production Intelligence

Large scale agri-businesses which have large growing or purchasing operations spread geographically over multiple locations face many challenges. These include monitoring of within season performance between different sites and aggregating that data for effective decision making. Automated processes within our Data Services enable us to tailor the products to deliver precisely the information required and at the right time. Potatoes, for example, are grown both directly by the business and under contract by independent farmers. Businesses that subscribe to our data product feeds can verify planted area, monitor crop establishment and field-scale performance throughout the season. They can also identify problems within fields, predict harvest timing and estimate yield. Within season satellite indicators can be used to provide consistent data across the whole business, improve risk management and reduce monitoring costs.

Regional Crop Mapping

Within season mapping of crop type at a regional scale provides valuable insights for large-scale agri-businesses and government agencies. Crop type mapping can range from consistent mapping of all crops grown within the year, to mapping of specific crops of interest at key decision times.

We tailor the delivery of information from our Data Services for agri-businesses that need up-to-date intelligence on crop production to inform their planning and management. Vegetable growing businesses in the UK can adapt their planting and harvesting schedules in response to market forces reacting to the state of competitors’ crops. We program weekly maps of the extent and estimated growth stage of vegetables across a wider region enabling more informed commercial decisions.

Government organisations that have a regulatory role in monitoring crop types annually, and report on crop presence, diversification and ecological compliance are already using Environment Systems Data Services to support their work. Data that is more scalable and responsive underpins monitoring and policy development.


Improving Agricultural Practice

In this IPP UK Space Agency funded project Environment Systems is working with a number of commercial and government stakeholders in the high value agricultural sectors in Peru and Colombia. We have now developed a range of analysis ready data products specifically aimed at regular monitoring of the crops that dominate in these countries of Latin America.

Banana crop
Banana crop clearly visible from radar image – Zona Bananera, Magdalena region on the Caribbean coast of Colombia

EO4cultivar is changing decision making in the agricultural sector that is helping bring about improved agricultural practice. It is doing this by establishing partnerships, developing data products that provide new knowledge about crops and land management, then transferring that knowledge to change and improve decision making and practice at regional and field level.

Copernicus Sentinel 1 and 2 satellite data are at the core of these product developments. A time series of radar data enables us to identify key growth stages in crops, which helps growers plan agronomic activities and prepare for harvest. Sentinel 2 optical satellite data delivers a number of vegetation indices that detect signs of stress in crops, ahead of when they may be visible to the human eye.

Environment Systems Data Services enables agri-businesses to receive up-to-date crop monitoring information in a format they are familiar with (data, alerts, maps) and compatible with their own crop management systems, putting these ready to use data products directly into the hands of their growers.

Agri-businesses and regional advisory services are now using these products directly themselves and to dispense advice, observations and insights to smallholders and others in supply chains for these export crops.

At the time of going to press we are working on automating the routine production of data products for a number of crops including asparagus, grapes, bananas and potatoes. In each case all the data processing will happen within Environment Systems Data Services.

  • Field-level production status: for yield estimates, growth stage, harvest timing
  • Field-level leaf stress estimates
  • Field-level metrics aggregated to farm/regional scale
  • Field-level crop maps with inter-seasonal change
  • Regional maps of grape field types (Pisco v Table)
  • Regional cropped area maps
  • Crop specific estimates of area and yield
Data insights to growers
Putting stats and insights directly into the hands of the growers


Monitoring on a National Scale

The DFMS (Drought and Flood Mitigation Service) project is based in Uganda and is an IPP UK Space Agency funded project. The extreme conditions caused by droughts and floods demand high quality information to direct mitigating action on the ground. The project aims to provide timely and improved meteorological, hydrological, and EO satellite information in the form of current observations, forecasts and historical data. A kind of ‘early warning system’ to provide decision makers with practical information that will improve knowledge and help mitigate against droughts and floods.

On this project, Environment Systems Data Services is providing analysis-ready Sentinel-1 and Sentinel-2 data for the whole of Uganda. The data are is ingested by the DFMS platform and used to automatically produce a range of products including monthly Sentinel-2 derived NDVI composites. Sentinel-2 passes over Uganda in three paths, or swaths, every 5 days. The images from these swaths are combined to produce aggregate NDVI maps. Using these maps, decision makers can monitor the state of green vegetation throughout Uganda; growers can see the progress of crops, the impact of drought and much more. The resolution is sufficient to provide regional analysis and even down to a field level. Kakira Sugar, one of the project partners, is using these composites to monitor their sugar cane estates.

Karamoja burn areas
Burn areas in the Karamoja region of Uganda
The data are also being used in the Karamoja region where burning prior to the wet season is a common agricultural practice to encourage fresh growth of grazing pastures. However, the extent of burning, and its impact on the environment, is unknown. Consequently, Sentinel-2 images are being processed to produce a ‘Burn Area Index’ that is sensitive to the charcoal signature that exists following a fire. As a result, large areas can be analysed and the location and extent of burning quantified.


Habitat Mapping for Onshore Wind Farms

Onshore wind farm developments face considerable challenges not least the planning process which rightly scrutinises prospective sites and their environmental impact. Environment Systems is a long-established provider of services to developers which include Phase 1 habitat surveys and protected species surveys that inform site design and mitigation measures required during construction.

Onshore wind
Satellite data helped to reduce the cost of habitat mapping by 50%
Recently our team has been using Environment Systems Data Services to validate existing but out of date Phase 1 Habitat surveys. A site of 1,300 hectares (13 sq km) was simply too big to re-survey cost effectively so we used Sentinel 2 multispectral imagery together with the existing survey to carry out the habitat segmentation. This highlighted the areas of change across the entire site. Of course the sophisticated techniques we use in the office need some validation and standard NVC (National Vegetation Classification) surveys were carried out on the areas highlighted by the updated habitat map. In most instances these areas consisted of clear-fell within plantation forests and some areas where improved drainage had led to the introduction of grazing or further woodland planting. The time saved by using satellite imagery also delivered a 50% cost saving.


Potato Crop Identification

In the UK levies are paid to farmers growing potatoes by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (ADHB). This covers all varieties of potato grown within a season. ADHB are investigating a monitoring program which utilises satellite remote sensing to validate grower declared fields. A pilot project carried out by Environment Systems this summer considered a range of optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite data to demonstrate their potential for detecting potato fields.

Potato crop detection
A potato detection algorithm enables the crop to be precisely delineated from surrounding crops
Four locations in potato growing areas were used to demonstrate the quality and scalability of the process. Time series Sentinel 1 and Sentinel 2 data were downloaded from Environment Systems Data Services. The data was combined and a potato crop detection algorithm was applied based on the crop’s known phenological characteristics. The exercise was a success and demonstrated that the detection algorithm was able to delineate potatoes from surrounding crops at a national scale.


More Automation Better Interpretation

One of the benefits that the Sentinel satellites deliver is regular coverage. That means the data can be
reliably used for change detection. The Sentinel 1 radar satellites are particularly useful as they are not affected by cloud cover. We now have a mature, fully automated processing workflow for Sentinel 1 SAR data which removes some of the ‘speckle’ noise and makes the imagery more interpretable. As a result we can now deliver monthly composite maps that are useful in the interpretation of biomass, particularly crops. Automation not only delivers a better more consistent image layer but also reduces the cost of production. This means less time spent processing and preparing data and more time on the interpretation, statistical analysis and algorithm development. The more our customers can understand about their crops the better the evidence base will be for making land management, commercial or policy decisions.

Oil Seed Rape Rotation
These two Sentinel 1 images were taken a year apart and clearly show the Oil Seed Rape (light blue) rotation