We have a small secret to share: we was contacted by Alvelal to perform our first official Ecological Restoration project in south of Spain: Reforest with 100.000 seeds 4 hectares of the Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park in Almeria,

Hand reforestation by Reverdecer (Photo by Victor Selva)

Objectives of the restoration

This reforestation is part of Dronecoria project that investigate how to make affordable large scale restorations with UAV-based aerial sowings, by dramatically reducing the costs of traditional reforestations. Climate change is produced by an excess of carbon in the atmosphere, and planting trees is the best solution for mitigation via carbon sequestration

This project is made with the help of: Ecosia, Reverdecer, Alvelal, and Consejería de Medio Ambiente of  Junta de Andalucía.

By reducing the costs of reforestations, we would like to worldwide scale the ecological restorations, making them bigger, frequent, resilient, and more accessible to governments, companies and organizations.

Aerial sowing of native coated seeds combined with automatic location of optimal microsites for seeds, will improve the efficiency of ecosystem restoration. Some studies of universities, already demonstrated that picking the right places for seedlings could improve considerably the survival of the plants up to 6,2 times, in comparative with conventional techniques. Our goal is to demonstrate that aerial photography as an efficient technique to identify and locate candidate places that will act as a nurse and protection of the coated seeds.

The test field is located in the National Park of Sierra de Maria-Los Velez at 1600 meters at sea level, with very extreme conditions, very hot in summer and below zero in winter, so any kind of natural shelter will improve a lot the efficiency of reforestation. The area use to be a forest hundreds of years ago, but after an intense logging activity and extensive agriculture, it becomes an arid area with a low quantity of trees.

We would like to remotely locate the native shrubs located in the area that can work as protection of the seeds. After a technical visit, we identified: Genista umbellata, Thymus sp. ,Brachipodium sp.,Crataegus monogynea and Rosa canina. Since they have some contrast with the soil, and have some volume, will be easy to identificate from the aerial mapping.

Pix4Dmapper processing the area for restoration.

Dronecoria represents a new area of symbiotic approach, produced by biological and technological processes, revealing the potential impact of interaction between ecologies and robotic systems on critical environments. Relies on mechanisms borrowed from cybernetics, robotics and permaculture, allowing accurately positioning of each new seedling, increasing their survival.

How do we plan to achieve-it ?

The ecological restoration of the area is divided in two phases. After the in-situ observation and satellite analysis of the area, we selected a prioritary area to perform the seeding inside the area limited by our partners: land owners and regional government.   

First we perform the aerial mapping of 20 hectares suitable to do the seeding, then we use Pix4Dmapper to process the images, with the orthomosaic and the textured point cloud we will do an automatic classification to locate  the best spots. Depending of the data, this classification could be performed with Pix4Dmapper or post processed with a Geographic Information System like QGIS.

Lot Amorós performing a Mapping of the area with Mavic Pro 2 (Photography of Victor Selva)

Once we have the location of the spots, with the data products we could even make more processing, like estimate a map of shadows to determine the places with potentially more moisture, or eliminate the spots with inclination to prevent the run off of seeds. With this variables in mind, we will order and select the best 4 hectares to sow the seeds with the drone.

Processed images with Pix4Dmapper

After the identification of the sowing spots, we will create a KML to load in QGroundControl and uploaded to the sowing drone, with an optimal flight path that will cover the area passing through the detected spots, to sowing with precision a desired quantity of seeds in the detected microhabitats.

We will use Dronecoria, the heavy lift hexacopter that we developed, to sow 2 kg of coated seeds of Pinus Nigra, with GPS precision in the specific microsites that we previously detected from the aerial images.

From previous experiments, we expect a minimum survival of 5 to 10%. With 50.000 seeds by kilogram, in 2 kg we will have up to 100.000 seeds, with the estimated % of survival we will have between 5000 and 10.000 new trees.

coated seeds
Coated seeds to sow by hand (Photo by Victor Selva)

To make this process scalable, and available to any organization, we will share the data and procedures, to allow and help a diversity of organizations to scale, deploy, and improve, their ecological reforestations, with seeds or seedlings.

Dronecoria is an open source drone, the fabrication schemes, bill of materials, construction plans, and design files are available with creative commons license by-sa.

The Dronecoria team is formed by a small group of enthusiasts: Lot Amorós, is a computer engineer leader of the project, member of FlyingLabs Spain and founder of Aeracoop, an organization that uses UAV’s for aerial cooperation , Jesus Ledesma is a Forest engineer and conservationist of Reverdecer, and Salva Serrano, architect and landscape designer, that shares their expertise developing this tools to boost forest restoration and fight climate change.

The Reverdecer organization will also sow by hand other 100.000 seeds (bellotas, juniperus, and other species) and we will compare results.

This project have the collaboration of Alvelal, an association that brings together farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, researchers from universities, as well as citizens with the same concern and vision for the future: improve socio-economic and environmental conditions, to address current threats as desertification. Also Ecosia, the popular web browser that plant trees, the Consejería de Medio Ambiente of  Junta de Andalucía, and Reverdecer.

The duration of the project will be around one year, starting in December 2019 (Taking aerial pictures), January 2020 (Processing), February 2020 (Aerial seeding), June 2020 ( Identification of % survival before summer), and will end in December 2020 ( Identification of % survival after summer).

Jesus Ledesma of Reverdecer planting a seed in Natural Park (Photo by Victor Selva)