Can drones make our monitoring life easier?

on 12 May 2016 

Drones hold the potential to quickly gather vegetation monitoring data that it would take us a lot of time on the ground to collect. South Coast Natural Resource Management (SCNRM) is supporting a trial drone monitoring project in our ecological restoration at Monjebup North to test what data drones can usefully gather, and how analysis of that can inform our monitoring program.

Yesterday Angela and I spent some time on site with SCNRM's Meredith Spencer, Peter Banyard from Airborne Maps and Steve Ayling from Spatial Awareness while they ran the first drone monitoring across 12 plots.

The South Coast turned on a perfect day for flying, with cloudless blue skies and a light breeze. With permanent polygons defined around 100-metre transects that Angela and I had set out a couple of weeks earlier, the drone was then manually flown off its rubber landing pad and up to a height of 112 metres before switching over to auto-pilot to fly its pre-programmed flight path in each plot. 

We all had to keep the proverbial eagle-eye out for the key risk to the drone operation – Wedge-Tailed Eagles do not take kindly to drone invaders in their territories and readily demolish drones in full flight!

We were treated to a preview of the high-resolution images that will be downloaded and analysed. The data gathered by the drone can provide information on canopy cover, bare ground, canopy height, and lots more. 

More detailed analysis of canopy texture, colour, etc. may provide us stem counts of various species. And of course the images will serve as an invaluable record of the development of our restored natural vegetation associations from baseline state as bare grazing and cropping ground.