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Natural Capital update: Space-data scientists pioneer habitat mapping for better environment

As land managers look toward a future acting as stewards of our natural capital, restoring habitats, sequestering carbon and enriching biodiversity, a key question arises – where to start?

Image: © Space Intelligence Ltd, Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0., © OpenStreetMap contributors

Our landscapes provide ‘ecosystem services’, which generate environmental and societal benefits locally and globally. Managing and improving the assets underpinning these services requires a long-term strategy which takes into account their broader geographical context.

Until recently, land managers and policy makers lacked complete, current and accurate information on the distribution of habitats across Scotland, making it difficult to identify and prioritise those requiring restoration, and to form long term strategy.

An Edinburgh-based SME, Space Intelligence, has filled this gap. Using cloud-based AI (artificial intelligence) to assess billions of pixels across tens of thousands of cloud-free, remotely sensed images, the company has generated the first high-resolution, Scotland-wide habitat maps.

The ‘SLAM-MAP’ system, funded by the Scottish Government and NatureScot, will allow policy makers and land managers to identify habitats where focused policy and innovative management techniques can yield net benefits for the environment and for society.

The data is already being used as input for Scotland’s annual Natural Capital Index assessment, which tracks the ability of the country’s terrestrial ecosystems to provide services which are of benefit to people. 

Remote sensing technologies can play an integral role in the future of land management, answering the ‘where?’, enabling the ‘how?’ and most importantly, allowing us to evaluate the success of management strategies by asking ‘how effective?’.

Natural Capital: Galbraith’s expert advisers guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain, and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.