21 Mar 2024

Blog: Forests and Innovation

We're celebrating International Day of Forests 2024!

This year’s theme is all about Forests and Innovation and Scottish Forestry is playing its part in driving forward the use of innovative technology to benefit the sector.

In this guest blog, Flora Donald, our Tree Health Policy Officer, explains an exciting piece of work being undertaken through the CivTech Challenge which could help us monitor for tree pests and diseases.  

Flora has been working with Kyle Usher, Scottish Forestry’s Head of Innovation, and Mike Kerr, Head of GIS, to take the project through its various stages with CivTech and the innovative companies involved.

Monitoring all of a country’s forests to spot signs of deadly tree pests and diseases
We set this as a Challenge and invited companies, large and small, to bring new energy and ideas to explore options with us via Scottish Government’s CivTech Programme, created to drive daring and innovation in the public sector.

Applicants to our Challenge suggested a wide range of solutions from ‘smart forests’ fitted with IOT sensors to mobile monitoring apps but we decided Earth Observation (EO) techniques show the best potential to provide us with new intel on pest and disease distributions.

07 Mixed woodland and agri with unhealthy Spruce

(mixed conifers and agricultural land showing some unhealthy Spruce)

Selecting innovative companies through CivTech
We selected two companies, AAC Clyde Space and 2Excel Aviation, to develop complimentary prototype products showcasing how high resolution imagery could be collected and analysed to find early signs of pests and disease problems across Scotland’s 1.4 million hectares of forests and woodlands.

Both companies aim to provide the Tree Health team with a prioritised list of areas to follow up with ground surveys for pest/disease confirmation and to decide on the best course of action to stop further spread. If we can find these outbreaks earlier, it will help landowners take action to protect trees before the pest or pathogen spreads to the next tree or forest.

AAC Clyde Space will deliver this using their own multispectral satellite images collected at 1.5 m resolution. This will give us broad and repeatable imaging of all our forests and woodlands to detect signs of dying trees such as “dead tops” on spruce caused by the great spruce bark beetle (Dendroctonus micans).

Meanwhile, 2Excel Aviation is exploring how they can speed up processing of their 35 cm resolution hyperspectral imagery to deliver us alerts for finer scale symptoms such discoloured larch branches indicative of new infections with Phytophthora ramorum. We are also working with them to understand if their imagery can help us learn about underlying stress that makes trees more susceptible to pests and diseases.

2Excel Geo heat map

(example of a heatmap supplied by 2Excel Aviation Ltd)

Challenges with Earth Observation techniques
Of course, there are plenty challenges associated with EO use to pinpoint symptoms of pests and diseases that we’re working through with both companies. Our climate makes it harder to plan and collect cloud-free images for analysis. We want to prioritise surveys of the most damaging pests first but symptoms can be confused with signs of other stressors such as drought or mechanical damage. Plus, and maybe most importantly, the imagery is collected from directly above which is a very different view to what the ground surveyors will see, so we need to find ways to help them locate symptomatic trees.

06 Mixed conifer aerial with Pr

(aerial photo of mixed conifers showing P. ramorum)

Further information
CivTech is a Scottish Government programme that brings the public, private and third sectors together to build things that make people’s lives better

Scottish Forestry is collaborating with CivTech and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on Challenge 9.1

A demo of both prototypes will be filmed on 8th May at the CivTech Demo Day – check our Challenge page or follow us on social media to find out more.