Satellites View Habitats

03 November 2010

Professor Richard Lucas of IGES
Professor Richard Lucas of IGES

Cutting edge, space technology is being used to bring maps of all Wales’ wildlife habitats right up to date. Once completed, by the end of March 2012, Wales will be the first country in Europe to have produced a national map of habitats using satellite technology. 

Led by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW), in partnership with Aberystwyth University and Environment Systems, the project is unveiled to future users at a special event in the National Museum, Cardiff, on, Tuesday 2 November 2010.

The original survey of all Wales’ wildlife habitats – from grassland and woodland to coastal heath, upland bogs and moors - was conducted over many decades and completed in 1997 by a team of CCW biologists roaming the length and breadth of Wales.  Now, by using images from satellites that have passed over Wales, the maps are being updated at a fraction of the cost and time, reflecting the advancement in technology over the last decade. Remarkably, the satellite images provide even more detail than was collected by field staff during the original survey! 

It’s crucial that we have the most up-to-date information on our natural environment as it provides us with a wide range of vital services. The environment creates employment and income worth billions of pounds, provides water, produces our food, energy and timber, and sustains our wildlife. It is our life support system which needs a healthy diversity of plants and animals to function.

Professor Richard Lucas played a major role in the development of the project. Key staff and students included Dr Peter Bunting, Daniel Clewley and Johanna Breyer (now at Environment Systems) Kate Medcalf and Steve Keyworth of Environment Systems and Alan Brown of CCW.

Keith Davies, CCW Head of Environment Policy said: “It is vital that we have the best possible information to plan and manage change to Wales’ natural environment, so that we can sustain economic and social wellbeing and conserve the environmental resources that we all depend on. 

“The scale and intensity of the original field survey work have not been matched anywhere else in Britain. Now that we can update the original maps and track changes, they will provide a sound, scientific basis for CCW’s advice to Government, local authorities and others on how best to manage and care for Wales’ natural resources.”

Professor Richard Lucas, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University said: “Satellite technology makes mapping and continual monitoring of the extent and condition of habitats and agricultural land so much easier and cheaper. I’m delighted that we are able to build on the dedicated work of the field conservationists that did the original survey.”

“Through the use of satellite imagery, we have not only been able to update the habitat maps, but also provide a mechanism to monitor future changes. With new technologies, we can bring this information to a wider audience and play a key role in ensuring that Wales’ natural heritage is preserved for future generations.”

Steve Keyworth, Director, Environment Systems said: “This work demonstrates how collaborative working between a government body, the University and private business can provide Wales with an effective and efficient approach to providing the evidence underpinning environmental decision-making. With Wales taking the lead in using satellite data to assess and monitor the state of the environment, we can also help other regions and nations develop similar capability.”

This project will contribute towards delivering the Welsh Assembly Government’s new initiative, Living Wales, currently out to consultation. Living Wales aims to create a more joined-up approach to caring for the environment to improve the health of ecosystems as a whole, which support all life on earth.  Everyone is invited to have their say - go to www.wales.gov.uk/consultation and give your ideas and response before the end of December 2010.

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