Using satellite imagery to slow the spread of disease in forests

Using satellite imagery to slow the spread of disease in forests

Scott James manages the Thoresby And Pierrepont Forestry Estate in Nottinghamshire which is over 500 ha of mixed forestry. A major challenge for the estate is reducing damage caused to the trees from disease and pests which can cause major losses. This has become even more important as the health of trees in the UK are increasingly threatened by diseases such as Ash dieback and Xylella (source) which can spread rapidly if not controlled.

Scott immediately saw the potential of using Field Health satellite imagery to detect disease in trees at an early stage before signs would be visible from the ground.

“The first sign of most tree disease is leaf loss but as forest canopy is 30m up in the air it can be difficult to see the early signs from the ground. The satellite imagery is a fantastic tool for quickly assessing loss in canopy from an aerial perspective across large areas.”

Using imagery from Field Health, Scott spotted an area of the forest with a small area of leaf loss from the September imagery. This area increased over time and by December was clearly an issue. On inspection there was some loss of needles from the conifer canopy which was then diagnosed as Dothistroma (redband) Needle Blight. This disease causes premature needle defoliation, resulting in loss of yield and, in severe cases, tree death.

“The problem was not easy to see from the ground and took quite a lot of investigation to find. Because we have caught this needle blight early using the satellite imagery we will be able to adjust our thinning plans. This will slow any further spread and preserve the conifer for as long as possible before felling becomes inevitable.”  

Although Red Band Needle Blight has been a problem in the southern hemisphere for many years, it has only recently caused significant damage in Europe (source). Early action at the first signs of disease facilitated by satellite imagery has a huge potential to slow future spread.

Scott has used the three years of historic satellite imagery available with Field Health to look at areas of the forest that were badly impacted by disease over the past few years. From the Field Health imagery he could clearly see when the disease started and patterns of spread. If he had access to the images at the time he would likely have been able to diagnose the issue earlier and prevent losses. Scott has also used Field Health imagery to detect other pest and environmental issues at an early stage.

“I learned a lot from Field Health. The satellite images where easy to-use and intuitive. The imagery has already proved useful this season as I have been able to spot and prevent squirrel damage.”

Field Health is available as part of fieldmargin Pro. See how it could help on your farm with a free 14-day trial of Pro. No credit card required.

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