The latest in the series of forestry-based case studies from Routescene demonstrates the value of remote sensing techniques such as UAV LiDAR for identifying diseased or damaged trees and overgrown vegetation close to powerlines to prevent outages or forest fires.

A recent project at Pound Farm in Suffolk aimed to identify trees in poor health along with overgrown vegetation that posed a risk of damage to the powerlines running through the forest. Companies Routescene, 2Excel Geo, Fera Science and Dielmo 3D collaborated to provide the results to the Woodland Trust, which owns the land.

The 49 hectares (120 acres) site consists of ash, oak, maple and birch amongst other tree species and is a mix of young and ancient woodland complete with wildflower meadows. There are 33 kV powerlines cutting through the middle of the wood.

Forestry Journal:

The area has been affected in recent years by ash dieback which is highly destructive. Caused by the fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, it can kill young and coppiced ash trees quickly. Older trees may be able to resist the disease for some time. Symptoms include a blackening and wilting of leaves in mid to late summer.

Four different imaging techniques – LiDAR, RGB, Multispectral and Hyperspectral – were used to appraise the ability of each to identify signs of ash dieback.

The vegetation penetration capabilities of the Routescene LiDAR system enabled a profile of individual trees to be compiled from ground level to the canopy to examine tree health. Density analysis of the LiDAR data gathered from the crown of the trees was used to identify disease. LiDAR can also capture the thin powerlines easily to establish the proximity of vegetation surrounding it. LiDAR is not affected by shadows, which is a problem for RGB imagery, and can be collected at any time of day. 

Forestry Journal:

In-depth processing of the LiDAR data was undertaken using Routescene's LidarViewer post-processing software. The team created a digital terrain model (DTM) to precisely locate the powerlines and pylons. The DTM was used in conjunction with a digital surface model (DSM) to ascertain the height of the trees (the canopy height being the difference between the DSM and DTM). This was used to calculate the normalised height and help identify individual trees.

Using RGB imagery it becomes easy to visualise the trees, for example viewing the colour of the leaves to determine tree health. RGB imagery can be merged with LiDAR data, giving each LiDAR point an RGB value, to colourise the point cloud. This provides true, life-like colour to the LiDAR images, making them easier to interpret.
Hyperspectral and multispectral imaging data was collected by both light aircraft and drone. These instruments capture data which is beyond the range of human vision.

Forestry Journal:

When statistically analysed, this data can help identify the species, health and stress of the trees. In this project, 18 vegetation indexes were used to check tree health. The best known is the normalised difference vegetation index (NDVI), a function of red and near-infrared energy that can indicate leaf area index, plant biomass and growth vigor. 

The LiDAR point cloud was combined with the multispectral and hyperspectral imagery using a series of machine learning approaches. The various vegetation indices, colour and point cloud densities were analysed to look for evidence of disease. Density analysis of the LiDAR data and hyperspectral data was then carried out, using data from the top two meters of the tree crown, to identify disease. 

Finally, the team had to provide outputs which could be easily understood by the Woodland Trust (not geospatial specialists). LiDAR data was exported to Dielmo 3D's web-based portal for visualisation and reporting. These results were used to identify areas along the powerline at risk from overgrown vegetation and diseased trees in danger of falling and striking powerlines. The analysis specifically focused on trees in close proximity to the powerline to produce an overgrown vegetation and ash dieback risk map.

Forestry Journal:

Gert Riemersma, CTO and founder of Routescene, said: “This project showcased how useful and practical the outputs created from UAV LiDAR data can be to recognise areas of disease within a woodland. It also demonstrated perfectly how high-resolution UAV LIDAR surveys can be used to identify individual powerlines and determine which trees and vegetation may cause damage either as a result of growth or disease.”

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