New technology helps restore peatlands
Since 2009, the Yorkshire Peat Partnership has been working to restore Yorkshire’s peatlands through a programme of practical restoration, management and monitoring. Most of Yorkshire’s peatlands have been damaged through prolonged periods of pollution, wild fires and overgrazing. Once exposed, bare peat starts to erode rapidly, eventually down to the bedrock, resulting in significant losses in carbon. Because of this, these habitats have been prioritised by European bodies and funding has been given to help reinstate peat-forming ecosystems.
In the last few years, the Partnership has been turning to new technology to help in this process with the use of UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). Because of the scale of the project, surveying and mapping these areas can be a time consuming business. The UAV’s can capture high resolution imagery to identify where peat is eroding and specialist software gives them a good idea where to target their limited resources. These are a contrast to the drones you see in the news and are more like a remote control aeroplane with a camera mounted in a pod, between the wings. As well as a traditional camera for colour images, different sensors can be swapped by changing the pod. Infrared sensors can pick out the presence of water, as it exhibits different thermal properties to the surrounding ground and vegetation.
All the information collected may be used to build up 3D models of the landscape, and, because the resolution is so high (3 cm), the landscape can be mapped more accurately and much more quickly than standard surveying techniques. These 3D models may allow them to pin-point areas where dams could be installed, to slow the flow of water in eroding channels, prevent the peat being washed away and help raise the water table, which suits important peat forming vegetation such as Sphagnum mosses.
The use of UAV’s is not just limited to peatland surveying and they could soon become a commonly used tool in the field of conservation. I can already think of numerous other uses!