News & research in brief

An image spectroscopy of the Amazon (Credit: CAO, Standford University)

Understanding the health of the landscape: A technological revolution

Remote sensing technologies have increased dramatically over the last 20 years, providing ways of seeing landscapes in new and interesting ways. One of these ways which captured my attention, was the ability to map the chemical signature of vegetation from aeroplane mounted lasers that reveal the internal workings of vegetation. A normal view with the naked eye or traditional aerial photograph would be shades of green, but through this technology green gives way to dazzling maps showing the chemical activity within the leaves of trees and crops. This technology is known as image spectroscopy. Large parts of the Amazon have been mapped in this way by Carnegie Airborne Observatory (CAO) at Stanford University, and there could be many other uses for the technology where manual surveys would be physically impossible or too time-consuming.

Gregory Asner CAO principal investigator and Professor of Environmental Science at Stanford University says “it is very similar to getting a blood test to find out the general status of your health”. The UK is not as vast, or tricky to navigate as the Amazon, but the technology could still find its use in agriculture, forestry or even within cities if the process proved more effective then traditional methods. Some possible applications might be:

  • How well a forest is growing in comparison to other forests on different slopes/aspects;
  • Understanding the “health” of crops for agricultural purposes;
  • The effect of over-grazing on different types of vegetation in the uplands;
  • Identify parts of the landscape with larger stores of carbon;
  • Identify the species composition/species richness of a woodland or grassland; and
  • Identify function of species – via their chemical activity.

A TED talk on the subject can be found here, link to scientific paper can be found here.

Useful videos/links

Really lovely video produced by the migratory connectivity project with a good story about connectivity and full life cycle of birds across continents.
Another good video about shared problems aimed at children/students.
The River Thames estuary sound map.
West of England’s Natural Assets (Ecosystem mapping).
Capability Brown: Perceptions and responses in a global context – a conference being held at the University of Bath in September will bring a international dimension to the Capability Brown Festival that has been running throughout the UK this summer.

Connectivity and Ecological Networks: Technical note from the Landscape Institute

Another superb technical note was published online in April by the Landscape Institute, this time on connectivity and ecological networks, partly funded by the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainabilty (BESS) programme, researchers at the Unversity of York and with contributions from ialeUK.  It introduces the subject in the context of landscape planning, design and management and will assist discussions typically held between ecologists and other disciplines, not just to landscape architects. There is a lot of good content …of value to students and professionals alike,  such as why to consider connectivity, the benefits and risks to biodiversity, the different aspects of connectivity and how this relates to ecosystem services and modifying design plans.  It also provides an explanation for some common misunderstandings between ecologists and planners, who may use the same terminology but have a different interpretations. The technical note can be found here on the Landscape Institute website. Other technical notes on green bridges, landscape character can be found here.

How Landscape Ecology informs global land-change science and policy

The science of landscape ecology has recently been promoted in a paper with a similar title in the Bioscience Journal in April.  The field was being commended for its benefit in three pressing environmental policy issues: land-use and land cover change, urbanization and climate change. The paper explained that the field is well placed to be a bridge between other specialist disciplines and policymakers, putting science in a spatial and temporary context and supporting scientifically informed place-based policy. It also said that landscape ecologists have a responsibility to better integrate stakeholders and public interests into their research. Link to article here.

Rewilding – “how to protect the gains of the past and kick on!”

Rewilding expert Paul Jepson acknowledged in a recent policy briefing that rewilding needs an enabling policy environment – due to the current  perception of the approach to be seen as radical and possibly unsettling to policy officers. The problem is that ecological dynamics create uncertain outcomes that are (as yet) difficult to turn into policy targets. Current legislation lists of protected species along with discrete sites that support viable populations and habitats. He explains that this ‘unit’ approach or what geographer’s term “orderly biogeography” -reduces the complexity of nature, is only good for past nature and leads to a static form of nature conservation. The conundrum then is how can we adapt policy and law to protect, whist also letting go - can Landscape Ecology help in finding a way? Previously published in Opinions, May 2016, Paul Jepson.

The need for monitoring: A consultant’s view

Practising ecologists find it frustrating that someone else has almost certainly faced the same issues around ecological design and mitigation, but due to current limitations in sharing knowledge, solutions are currently not available for wider benefit and use. The Professional Standards Committee of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) is discussing the options for a web-based platform where information and experiences about survey design, the effect of impacts, and the success of implementing mitigation can be shared by members. CIEEM also recognise improved links with academia and other nature conservation organisations would also assist the production of survey and mitigation guidelines. The recently amended Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (European Parliament & Council of the European Union 2014) should, to a degree, to assist this process by introducing new monitoring obligations, which can apply to both the implantation and management of the project.

Adapted from original article by CIEEM Inpractice Journal. For further information contact Katherine Drayson at Policy Exchange or Stewart Thompson at Oxford Brooks.

GIS Analyst job

A 12-month post is available to work within the Land Use and Ecosystem Services (LUES) Science Group in the Centre for Ecosystems, Society and Biosecurity in Forest Research. The LUES Science Group conducts research to understand the influence of land use on the biodiversity, resilience and ecosystem services (ES) provided by wooded landscapes. This research is used to help policymakers, forest managers and planners understand and assess how the specific placement and management of woodlands affects biodiversity, resilience and the delivery of ES at various scales. The closing date is 21 Sep 2016. Further information