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Ecological consultancy EPR has used drone technology to complete a pilot study of water levels at RSPB Rainham Marshes on the Thames Estuary. EPR surveyed around a quarter of the 400 hectare site (97 hectares) in just two hours showcasing the benefits of using the technology compared to walk-over surveys.

The 1,000 aerial images captured during the survey were stitched together to provide a single large-scale image. This was combined with water-level recognition software to provide unique data which will allow the RSPB to evaluate the quality of the habitat for lowland breeding waders and other wildlife. The drone was also able to identify priority habitat and differentiate between marshes and grasslands, and capture topographical information to generate a 3D model of the site.

EPR launched its drone surveying service last month in order to deliver ecological surveying services quicker and more efficiently (EA 19-Mar-19). While EPR has suggested drones will not substitute its experienced professional ecological surveyors, it is nonetheless another example of the ongoing movement towards disruptive technology within the environmental services space (EA 30-Apr-19).  

"While there is no substitute for experienced professional ecological surveyors, drone technology is supplementing our expert team and enabling us to provide the kind of high-quality, thorough ecological assessments that will help underpin our client’s responses to ecological planning in a fraction of the time that could previously be expected for large, inaccessible or complex study sites," said Ben Kite, managing director of EPR.  

"The sophisticated data collection capabilities of the drone also provide an enhanced understanding of the environment that we are working within, leading to better informed decisions as well as increased efficiency and accuracy".