Making Earth Observation work for UK biodiversity conservation

Monitoring UK habitats

The UK supports a wide range of habitat types, encompassing a great variety of biodiversity and its associated benefits.  There are a number of statutory designations such as the Habitats Directive protecting the natural environment under both national and international law, and government policy drivers.  It is vital for the conservation of priority habitats to have a robust system for the surveillance of the extent and condition of these habitats, and there is also a requirement to report on these issues beyond the network of designated sites.
Aerial photo Dersingham
Any such surveillance requires regular and accurate data, but it is essential to find the most cost effective way to provide that data.  Due to their distribution and comparative rarity, higher priority habitats are particularly difficult and expensive to map and monitor solely using traditional ground survey techniques.  Earth observation (EO) methods could well provide useful tools as part of a wider surveillance programme.  The Crick Framework has therefore been developed to help potential users to assess what EO methods are available to meet their habitat mapping requirements.
Segementation layers

JNCC work to develop new mapping methods

JNCC is working with various partners to develop new EO methods for mapping habitats and assessing their condition; this work is currently assessing options at two different scales.

Broad scale mapping

Broad scale mapping offers the possibility of wide geographic coverage and therefore rapid mapping of large areas, although it does not enable very high spatial or thematic resolution.  Mapping at this scale could offer great benefits though if it could provide regular and cost effective assessments of change in the country side.  The feasibility of this approach is being assessed by JNCC in partnership with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in the Ecological Land Cover Time Series System.

Detailed habitat mapping

JNCC and DEFRA have implemented a project to assess the potential of EO and geoinformatic techniques and technologies for very detailed habitat mapping. This project is called Making Earth Observation Work for UK Biodiversity (MEOW) and the work aims to identify parameters for priority habitats and ecosystems that EO approaches could measure more efficiently than is currently achieved, for monitoring and reporting on the extent and condition of semi-natural habitats.
The project intends to provide cost-effective EO methods that can be used by various agencies to close high priority gaps in biodiversity surveillance.  Further, it will identify the skills, knowledge and technology transfers necessary for the integration of EO techniques into operational surveillance tools for UK biodiversity conservation.  

Related work

There are a variety of EO-related projects underway by conservation bodies at a range of scales, from local to EU to global; some examples are discussed briefly in the ‘Related work’section.