Over the next four years, scientists plan to employ automated sensors and AI to assess the effectiveness of on-farm environment and peatland restoration initiatives.
The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) will implement solar-powered biodiversity monitoring stations, equipped with camera ‘traps’ and acoustic recording equipment, at farms.
These stations will be strategically placed in areas practicing emission reduction, carbon capture enhancement, and wildlife support, such as agroforestry and wildflower hay meadows.
These monitoring stations will enable the measurement of the impact of these schemes on species populations by comparing areas of the farm with and without agri-environment measures.
In addition, these stations will be situated in degraded peatland areas to contrast species populations on farms that are drained for agricultural purposes with neighboring sites where rewetting efforts are creating wetland habitats that promote biodiversity and sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
To identify species, researchers will utilize AI software capable of recognizing them from photographs or call recordings. This study is a component of AgZero+, a five-year research program led by UKCEH, aimed at supporting the UK’s shift towards its new agricultural support system.
Professor Richard Pywell from UKCEH, spearheading the program, stated, “By harnessing cutting-edge technology, we will observe species at farms implementing diverse crop and land management practices to showcase the impact of various farming systems and agri-environment measures on populations.”
“Our monitoring endeavors will furnish scientific evidence crucial for shaping sustainable land management policies and practices that foster biodiversity, combat climate change, and improve crop production,” he added.
The study will be conducted at four pairs of farms located in Dorset, Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, and Northamptonshire. It aims to compare the effects of agri-environment schemes on these farms.
Additionally, the study will assess two peatland sites in Cambridgeshire—one being actively farmed and the other under restoration.
UKCEH plans to deploy the automated monitoring stations at additional sites across England every year, from March to October in 2024, 2025, and 2026.
Dr. Tom August, a computational ecologist at UKCEH, responsible for deploying the monitoring stations, highlighted the transformative impact of new sensor and AI technology on biodiversity monitoring.
“With solar-powered automated biodiversity monitoring stations, we can now observe wildlife continuously in remote locations without the need for physical presence on-site,” Dr. August explained.
He added, “AI technologies enable us to process the vast amount of images and recordings generated by these stations much more efficiently than human efforts.”
Upon completing the four-year study, UKCEH will present its findings, while preliminary data will be made available during the course of the project.News