Deforestation is a serious development and environmental challenge. Forests 2020 is a major investment by the UK Space Agency, as part of the International Partnerships Programme (IPP), to help protect and restore up to 300 million hectares of tropical forests by improving forest monitoring in six partner countries through advanced uses of satellite data.
IPP is a five-year, £152 million programme designed to partner UK space expertise with overseas governments and organisations. It is funded from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s (BEIS) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF).
Led by Ecometrica, Forests 2020 brings together some of the UK’s leading experts on forest monitoring with local experts in Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Belize, Ghana and Kenya to deliver accurate, up-to-date deforestation data generated from satellites to governments, communities, agribusinesses and traders.
Detecting change in near real time
Modern earth observation satellites can provide frequent images which cover the whole planet. Using Sentinel 1 and 2, the European Copernicus programme provides free and open, radar and optical, satellite data every 5-6 days. These images enable us to see small disturbances on the ground, and can even detect the removal of a single tree through selective logging.
Using this data, The National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Leicester has developed a near-real-time deforestation alert system called Forest Sentinel. Data is processed and analysed as the satellite passes over areas of interest and where change is detected, an alert is triggered, feeding into operations.
Forest Sentinel has been implemented by the Kenya Forest Service, who push the alerts out to their forest rangers in the field. The rangers respond to the alert by going to an area where deforestation has been detected and collecting more information via mobile, GPS enabled apps.
Identifying risks and opportunities
In order to effectively conserve and protect forests, it is important to understand which areas are most at risk of deforestation. Ecometrica has been working with partners to develop global, national and local scale forest at risk datasets. These are vital tools at each end of the project or investment lifecycle: In the planning stages, identifying areas of high risk ensures investments in forest protection channelled to the most vulnerable where high impact can be achieved. It can then be used during the life of, or at the end of an investment to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention. Risk maps can be used as reference level to estimate what the expected forest loss would have been, which can then be compared to actual forest loss as a result of a specific intervention.
Forests 2020 has also developed innovative tools to identify areas suitable for restoration. The University of Edinburgh has developed potential biomass models to support decision making in restoration activities. Candidate areas can be overlaid with opportunity data layers to estimate what the potential carbon sequestration would be from restoring forest in that area. Greater insights can be achieved by adding in information about species suitability and climate scenarios, making this a powerful tool to support countries’ ambitious restoration targets.
Supporting zero-deforestation commodities
Government has the remit for official forest monitoring and implementing policy that will have a positive effect on forests. It is important to acknowledge that the private sector also has an important role in addressing deforestation, particularly in agricultural supply chains. Soy, Palm Oil, Cocoa and Beef are recognised as ‘forest risk’ commodities globally as agricultural expansion is often at the expense of natural resources.
A key part of Forests 2020 was to engage with private sector actors working in these supply chains to provide services that identify risk of deforestation in sourcing areas and monitor the effectiveness of interventions to reduce deforestation.