The perspective of unmanned aerial systems in forest management: Do we really need such details?

Prepared by Jan Komárek

Detection of forest stands and identification of its parameters (e.g. height, species group, health status). Photo credit: Jan Komárek.

Traditional methods of terrestrial field survey and measurements at forests are by a majority of landowners still considered to be the most reliable source of tree information. These techniques are, however, time-consuming, with high demand for personnel skills. Therefore, landowners might benefit from solutions based on low altitude aerial surveys conducted with drones – unmanned aerial systems. Drones bridge the gap between spaceborne imaging and terrestrial measurements, thus combining the advantages of higher spatial resolution with the possibility of on-demand rapid deployment, which is quite interesting for many forestry applications.

Forest field data acquisition using casual consumer drone, The Central Bohemian Region. Photo credit: Tomáš Klouček.

The popularity of drones has grown over the last few years and still keeps growing, which can be illustrated by the dozens of currently available forestry applications. Affordable commercial drones mounted with a consumer-grade camera may yield the required forest information with the level of spatial accuracy sufficient for most forestry interventions. On the other hand, drones may be mounted with professional cameras, including thermal sensors and lidar or even radar. The researchers are undoubtedly able to describe a complex forest structure with astounding detail and accuracy using such sensors.

This is a fact. The question remains if those professionals’ solutions and time-consuming data processing methods with high demand on personnel skills are really necessary for casual forestry (and any other environmental) practice. Drone users and ordering parties tend to turn a blind eye to the economic aspect of the drone’s task, and rational thinking goes away in many cases. Current cameras can capture data with outstanding spatial detail in order of millimetres and many different parts of the spectral range. However, these state-of-the-art solutions are inevitably associated with high costs. That is why such hunts for data details tend to be quite imprudent for many applications. The considerable part of the requested information can be, however, captured by consumer-grade drones and casual cameras at reasonable costs with sufficient accuracies. Simple recommendation arises – think about your data.

Tracking the drone mission, The Central Bohemian Region. Photo credit: Petr Klápště.

This is a plain language summary for the paper of Jan Komárek published in the Applied Vegetation Science (