Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are multi-functional. From delivering packages to wildlife surveillance, drones have been on the biodiversity frontlines as wildlife conservation tools. In our age of climate change and deforestation, drones now take a bigger step towards reversing the loss of forests and trees.
Last year, a competition was held to encourage inventors to create low-cost drones for conservation purposes and popularise their use as aerial surveyors in remote areas in Africa and Asia to protect our many endangered animals. Recently, there has been a call to use drones to plant trees. Not just a hundred trees, but ambitiously a billion trees a year.
BioCarbon Engineering has a grand mission “to counter industrial scale deforestation using industrial scale reforestation.” They have developed a system that plants germinated seeds using precision agriculture techniques with the help of drones, at just a fraction of the cost (15%) of plant-by-hand methods, with zero labour input.
The still-in-trial precision planting and 3D terrain mapping reportedly increase the uptake rates and the likelihood of healthy forest growth. Different sensing techniques are used to calculate the ideal amount of water, fertiliser, pesticide and other inputs needed for planting an area of trees. After planting, the drones can take up the role to audit and monitor the reforested sections to ascertain the recovery rate in the selected areas by measuring tree height, number of leaves, size, shape, angle, color, trunk thickness and other key characteristics.
For me, planting trees with drones sounds a bit like plots from science fiction stories. With this kind of chicken-and-egg dilemma, maybe we should start to think about and find viable ways of combatting the acceleration of industrialised deforestation of virgin forests, rather than to jet-speed the planting of a billion tree babies annually. Remember, it still takes a tree 20 years to hit maturity, but only 20 seconds to fall.