About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

The problem

There is a biodiversity crisis in Scotland as a reduction in natural forest and woodland has cut wildlife habitats and fragmented ecosystems. Biodiversity impacts the air we breathe, the food we eat, the environment we live in and the global climate. The challenge is reversing this trend in the most effective way. The Nature Recovery Network is a UK-wide campaign to identify where good wildlife habitat is already, where it should be and how it will be protected, restored, created and joined together to achieve a recovery in biodiversity. However, gathering enough of this information and ensuring it is up-to-date and accurate is difficult.

An AI solution

Edinburgh-based satellite firm Space Intelligence is working with the Scottish Wildlife Trust on its Riverwoods projects, part of the national Nature Recovery Network, to produce maps of where reforestation is most likely to improve the biodiversity and value of Scotland’s ecosystems. Space Intelligence is using AI to interpret visual data from satellites to map habitats across Scotland, focusing on riverine forests. The AI can interpret large volumes of data from the satellites to create highly detailed and accurate maps. It can also point to places where reforestation will be most effective, helping to connect existing areas of habitat and ensure the right trees are planted which maximises the impact of scarce conservation resources. The data analysis is already underway to produce the maps and identity areas for rapid conservation work with Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Dr Murray Collins, chief executive of Space Intelligence and project leader, believes the project can have an immediate impact on habitat analysis but also has the potential to inform the use of technology for conservation. He says: “This project will enable our partners in the Scottish Wildlife Trust to revolutionise the way that they map and analyse wildlife habitat, and plan for the future. Working together we will set the technological foundations to help protect, restore and connect vital components of Scotland’s natural environment in response to the ecological crisis and climate emergency”.

This project is led by Dr Murray Collins, chief executive of Space Intelligence in partnership with Scottish Wildlife Trust. The project has received funding from Nesta in Scotland’s AI for Good programme and the Scotland Can Do programme’s project to identify AI techniques to tackle Scotland’s, and the world’s, climate emergency.