DEFRA (the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs) has begun a nationwide project with geospatial data analytics company, Rezatec, to monitor woodland for diseases such as Ash dieback.

The project, covering over 130,000 sq. km, will identify and monitor Oak and Ash trees, looking specifically at any change in health. Initially this will identify the species and map them, following which a disturbance layer will be added to provide details of the changes in health status of the identified trees up to the most recent complete season (2018). A successful pilot was completed in Devon, looking at the landscape in 2017.

Sam Grant, Statistician, Plant Health at DEFRA comments “Following a small-scale trial Defra has asked Rezatec to identify woodland ash and oak and monitor them for disease. Using satellite data analytics allows us to optimise our resources, as well as enabling us to be more pro-active in combatting tree disease and increasing our public spend efficiency. DEFRA is pleased to be taking a lead in using the latest technologies to address the issues we face.”

Monitoring England’s Ash and Oak tree health is important in forest and woodland areas, with many trees being affected by an invasive fungal disease. For example, ash dieback is lethal to European ash trees and arrived in the UK naturally through wind-blown spores and via the movement of infected trees, some years before it was first identified.

The costs to DEFRA and county councils to deal with the issue is not insignificant and this work will go a long way to maximise the efficiency of the highly skilled, but limited resources available. By using satellite technology to accurately identify and locate affected trees, government can optimise the deployment of ground teams, sending them directly to the source of the problem. They can also remove affected trees that may become a hazard to the general public.

Tim Vallings, Chief Commercial Officer at Rezatec comments “As a result of our initial project, we have demonstrated to DEFRA an evidence-based approach to accurate and cost-effective monitoring, over a wide area focusing on species identification and tree health by specific species. For the first time, species maps can be used as a reference for targeting areas of most need and we are pleased to be expanding the project nationwide, providing DEFRA and the wider community at county council level with this ability”.