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Detecting young trees from space

Home research Detecting young trees from space

Foresters need to know if young trees have survived their first five years. This usually requires visiting the planting site, but with tens of thousands of hectares planted per year, visiting all sites often proves too expensive. Recent aerial photography cannot help as the young trees are too small to be visible. In searching for a solution researchers hypothesised that even if the trees are too small to see, maybe we could ‘feel’ them using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR). A different technique to utilising optical data, SAR provides ‘fuzzy’ data on the presence of objects, their size, orientation and texture. The research found that this was possible and data on whether sites had tree cover or not has been derived for extensive areas of Britain and NFI are working to operationalise the process.

Research objectives

  • Detect trees from space utilising data arising from the Sentinel Satellites
  • Provide feedback to managers and policy makers on whether or not all restock and new planting sites have tree cover years 0 to 5.
  • Assess value of machine learning

Findings and Recommendations

  • The postulate was proven and young trees can be detected from space
  • NFI will operationalise the system

Latest updates

Scottish Forestry are funding a project to provide a map of all the restock sites of the last ten years in Scotland which will show which have been restocked and which have not.

Our Involvement

FR will host the operational service and will continue to research into improving accuracy.

For more information please contact Ben Ditchburn in the NFI team

Research Status
Funding & partners
  • Scottish Forestry