The use of Drones for nature conservation

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Over the past years, there has been an intense development of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (or Drones). While in some aspects they can be seen as a potential threat (in terms of sound pollution, potential collision with fauna, and source of disturbance) if handled properly, they can be a useful tool to monitor fauna, habitats and marine environments. Teresa Pastor, EUROPARC project manager, attended a meeting in Spain about the potential use of drones for nature conservation purposes. Here are some of the main outcomes and examples that were highlighted in the meeting.

Some applications in Protected Areas

to monitor HABITATS

  • Multispectral images uses to monitor land use and vegetation changes
  • Mapping of plants (e.g. invasive plants)
  • Monitoring of burnt areas => estimate BAI – Burnt Areas Index
  • Plants’ vigour => NDVI – Normalized Difference Vegetation Index => assess the content of live green vegetation. It indicates the state of leaves, chlorophyll activity, and hydric stress.
  • BioCarbon Engineering : planting solutions for large-scale ecosystem restoration projects
  • Dronehopper – Firefighter drone designed to provide aerial support for wildfires firefighting. This is a high tech solution that permits its adaptability to different conditions, including night operations, required any moment to control wildfires. Each drone has a maximum capacity of loading up to 300 liters of water.
  • Phytosanitary controls (articulated arm coupled to drone) (e.g. control Pine processionary moth)

monitor FAUNA and control disease spread

  • Monitor the abundance of nesting birds in colonial species
  • Monitor disease spread (e.g. tuberculosis in ungulates). The idea is to look for a spreading pattern in order to focus on treatment.
  • Detection of poaching
  • Disease control vector (e.g Drones that scatter swarms of sterile mosquitoes over wide areas; Zika control)

to monitor MARINE areas


  • Life Seeker – Locates missing people using their mobile phones as beacons.

Main types of drones

    – With fix-wings: in a short lapse of time, they can travel a long distance at a high speed. They are very much employed in open spaces and agricultural fields to watch out crops

– With rotary-wings: are best used in forests, which are more  inaccessible

– Hybrids with fix and rotary wings – very expensive

–  Amphibious drones – Travel underwater and in the air


Moreover, drones are coupled with different types of sensors, among which:

–         GPS – GLONASS (Russian satellite navigation system)

–         RGB camera

–         IR camera

–         Multispectral imaging cameras

–         Thermal vision cameras

–         MicroRadars

–         LIDAR – pulses of laser

–         Photogrammetry