Drone use aiding ecological assessment for RSPB

Ecological consultancy EPR has completed a pilot study at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Rainham Marshes site, using its new drone capability to survey water levels at these wetlands and create a giant image of them. 


The RSPB will use the information gathered to inform decisions on habitats for endangered wildlife. 

Rainham Marshes comprises in excess of 400 hectares of ancient, low-lying grazing marsh on the Thames Estuary in east London and south-west Essex.

The RSPB manages its combination of wet grassland, ditches, and scrub to support breeding and wintering birds, water voles, and grass snakes. 

To contribute to this, EPR carried out an initial water-level survey of 97 hectares using advanced drone technology, completing in two hours work which would have taken RSPB staff several days on foot.

It flew drones over the area, taking more than 1,000 pictures that have been stitched together to create a single large-scale image. 

Used alongside water-level recognition software, this data will allow the RSPB to assess the quality of the habitat for lowland breeding waders and other wildlife, and make any adjustments found necessary.

Drones can also automatically identify important habitats, differentiate between marshes and grasslands and capture topographical information to generate a 3D model of the site.

EPR managing director Ben Kite said: “While there is no substitute for experienced professional ecological surveyors, drone technology is supplementing our expert team and enabling us to provide high-quality, thorough ecological assessments. These will help underpin our client’s responses to ecological planning in a fraction of the time that could previously be expected for large, inaccessible or complex study sites.” 

The RSPB’s senior site manager at Rainham Marshes, Andrew Gouldstone, said that while recreational use of drones could disturb wildlife, EPR’s work had demonstrated that when used appropriately, drones could provide insight to help progress towards conservation objectives.


Image credit | iStock 

Mark Smulian is a freelance journalist

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