Directing tropical forest management from the sky

Preventing the conversion of the world's two billion hectares of degraded tropical forests to agriculture is a top conservation priority. This requires effective land allocations for conservation, restoration and the production of commodities to be made, which are dependent upon high quality forest survey data across extensive areas. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) make possible the acquisition of high resolution forest canopy images at relatively little cost but assessing forest quality from these images presents significant technical challenges. The project will develop the use of UAVs for forest survey work at the 100,000 hectare Harapan Rainforest ecosystem restoration concession in central Sumatra and at the Dakatcha Woodland in Kenya. These sites have been degraded through the extraction of forest products, especially large trees for timber, resulting in complex mosaics of forest at various stages of regeneration. Aerial imagery acquired from the sites will be analysed at the University of Cambridge, where recent advances in image recognition software will be refined. Mathematical techniques will be developed to enable automatic measurement of tree size and abundance, and identification of indicator species. Landscape scale maps of forest quality and restoration potential will then be produced. Land management decisions regarding where to carry out expensive restoration techniques, such as planting trees or removing invasive species, or where to establish income generating plantations will benefit enormously from this information. It is the aim of the project that by developing the software into a freely available open source package, it will become an indispensable tool for forest managers across the world, greatly aiding the conservation of degraded tropical forest.

CCI partners Involved

Cambridge Conservation Forum (CCF) is a network that links the diverse Cambridge-based community of conservation practitioners and researchers working at local, national and international levels.
The Department of Plant Sciences' research spans plant and microbial sciences. Conservation-related work in the department includes forest ecology and conservation, tropical ecology, mathematical...
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) speaks out for birds and wildlife, tackling the problems that threaten our environment. It is the largest wildlife conservation organisation in...

Other Organisations Involved

Harapan Rainforest

A Rocha International

Related Resources

Resource Title Description Type
Above the trees below the leaves Presentation by Tom Swinfield to the RSPB Annual Science Meeting 2016.  Talks and presentations
Can UAVs be used to measure forest quality? In this online case study, published on the website of the conservation technology group WILDLABS.NET, Tom Swinfield explores the work undertaken in the collaborative project "Directing tropical... Other documents
Conservation of Atewa Forest in Ghana Presentation by Jeremy Lindsell to:  8 October 2015: 60 delegates on a West Africa regional workshop for the Convention on Biological Diversity, Ghana;   9 October 2016: 40 masters students at St... Talks and presentations
Open-source toolkit: methods for the use of UAVs in rapid forest quality assessment During the course of the project "Directing tropical forest management from the sky", UAVs have exploded in their use but legal restrictions have also proliferated. The work undertaken as part of... Toolkits
Seeing through the trees A talk given by Tom Swinfield at the Autorestoration Workshop Forest Restoration Research Unit, in Thailand in October 2015.    Talks and presentations
Virtual Hutan Harapan - a flight over the forest A 3D model of the Kapas River at Hutan Harapan made using a low cost drone and structure from motion software. This video is an output of the CCI Collaborative Fund project "Directing tropical forest... Video