THE Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) and Forest Research have partnered with Vodafone on a pilot project using Internet of Things (IoT) technology to monitor tree growth and the impacts of environmental change on UK forests.

The three-month trial is now under way in Forestry England’s Alice Holt forest, near Farnham in Surrey, and Harwood forest, near Rothbury in Northumberland.

Specialist sensors have been attached to trees in the two forests and are connected via Vodafone’s Narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) network. Data is collected and transmitted to DEFRRA and Forest Research where advanced analytics will assess the impact of temperature, humidity and soil moisture on tree growth and function.

Malcolm McKee, chief technology officer at DEFRA, said: “Trees are a unique natural resource that play a crucial role in combating the biodiversity and climate crises we face.

“This exciting partnership uses newly emerging IoT technologies to improve our understanding of the impacts of environmental change on our nation’s forests, which will help inform our policymaking. The new technology provides better quality data and importantly, allows us to monitor places that current technologies cannot reach.

“We are always looking for ways to explore how using innovative new technologies can improve our data gathering. This initial focus is on the monitoring of forests, but the technologies will be applicable to monitoring ‘anything’ in the environment.”

Matthew Wilkinson, research scientist at Forest Research, said: “This innovative collaborative project has the potential to transform the way we are able to collect and analyse data, and to reduce the need for frequent site visits, especially at remote rural locations. The project will also help us to gather more data which is critical to targeting efforts to measure the contribution of individual trees to climate change.

“If the trial is successful, we hope it will expand to other areas of environmental monitoring and signify a step change in the amount of data we are able to collect and analyse.”

Anne Sheehan, director, Vodafone Business UK, added: “Tackling climate change requires radical thinking and our forests will be vital to this.

“Our IoT technology enables us to connect trees and monitor performance, which is a perfect example of how technology can be used in new ways to help create a more sustainable future.”

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