How Wildlife Trust is using drones to unlock wild secrets from above

PUBLISHED: 06:30 28 June 2017 | UPDATED: 22:31 06 July 2017

Godmanchester by drone for Wildlife Trust

Godmanchester by drone for Wildlife Trust

ILIFFE

These little machines in the sky can seem slightly sinister - swooping about watching us from above, but in the hands of conservationists the use of drones is proving invaluable. Caroline Fitton of the Wildlife Trust reveals secrets from on high.

Cambourne from the air, photographed by drone for the Wildlife Trust by Josh HellonCambourne from the air, photographed by drone for the Wildlife Trust by Josh Hellon

Wildlife Trust research and monitoring manager Josh Hellon learnt to fly last year – he got a pilot’s licence, one which permits him to legally fly a drone over the conservation charity’s nature reserves to gather aerial information which once collated aids its work.

For the past two years to gain more in-depth picture about reserves, the trust has been flying drones using the information gathered as analysis for habitat maintenance.

Drones are proving an increasingly useful tool for conservation -used sensibly by a licenced operator - and are being used across the world for mapping reserves, counting nesting birds, erosion monitoring to animal counting and species identification, the list of projects that drones are being used for is long and continues to grow.

With a camera attached, a range of dramatic images can be taken from sweeping panoramas to pinpoint aerial views of heron’s nests for example – a perspective literally from a bird’s-eye view which it would be impossible to achieve any other way.

Godmanchester photographed from a drone for the Wildlife Trust by Josh HellonGodmanchester photographed from a drone for the Wildlife Trust by Josh Hellon

The trust is looking at new applications for this technology. The drone is now being used for creating maps of nature reserves to help with land management. The maps provide an amazing amount of previously inaccessible detail, sometimes making it possible to pick out individual plant species. This information can be used for everything from planning scrub removal to tracking invasive species or assessing heather growth.

From a survey this year at Godmanchester nature reserve, a detailed map has helped target future management, with varying habitat types of tree, scrub and reed/rushes being recorded over time to monitor changes and so direct future management where needed.

At Cherry Hinton in west Cambridge, aerial images clearly show areas of bare chalk which have declined from 58 per cent to 24 per cent since 2010. This information is being used to make a proposition to Natural England for maintaining bare chalk as early successional habitat.

At Fulbourn Fen, the survey images from six individual flights were stitched together into a single montage. Images were taken before scrub removal to enable future monitoring of controlled trials and show how widely small scrub is distributed across the site – results which a conventional survey would have difficulty producing.

A bird's eye view of the Godmanchester reserve from Josh HellonA bird's eye view of the Godmanchester reserve from Josh Hellon

Recent footage filmed over Cambourne nature reserve clearly demonstrates how wildlife can be accommodated in a new village to enhance life for residents, in a combination of newly created green spaces and existing habitats. A story told from the sky of wildlife, green spaces and residential needs successfully dovetailing together.

All footage was obtained by a licensed unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) operator with permission of the Wildlife Trust BCN. For the safety of people and wildlife, please do not operate drones on or above any Wildlife Trust reserve without first obtaining permission: Contact communicationsteam@wildlifebcn.org for more information.

Events

Godmanchester photographed from a drone for the Wildlife Trust by Josh HellonGodmanchester photographed from a drone for the Wildlife Trust by Josh Hellon

Wildlife Trust’s Lovely Lepidoptera

Trumpington Meadows, Friday July 7

Butterfly walk - 2-4pm; Moth trap set-up - Friday 9pm onwards; moth viewing - Saturday 8-9am

Drones are now being used by the Wildlife Trust to monitor its reservesDrones are now being used by the Wildlife Trust to monitor its reserves

Learn about butterflies and moths at Trumpington Meadows: Join an afternoon stroll around the meadows to marvel at the number and variety of butterflies on the reserve. In the evening, watch moth traps being set up, which we will open on Saturday morning to get a closer look at these wonderful nocturnal insects

Chalk, Cheese and Glow-worms

East Pit Nature Reserve, Lime Kiln Road, Cherry Hinton

Wednesday July 19 8pm-10.30pm

Adults only £7.50 each Booking is essential – 01954 713530 or laura.osborne@wildlifebcn.org

Discover rare plants, an ancient ditch and the wonders of chalk on this unique guided walk. Indulge in a feast of cheeses and refreshments courtesy of The Cambridge Cheese Company. As it gets dark, discover the world of the glow-worm with an expert from the Wildlife Trust.

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