The Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke) used BVLOS drones to carry out tree-wise forest inventory on an area of 18,000 hectares in North-West Russia.
A huge need exists for up-to-date, precise forest inventory data in Russia. The transition from extensive forest management to intensive forest management has already started in several regions of northwest Russia, resulting in an increase in pulpwood available on the market. Detailed information on current forest resources is a basic requirement for this transition.
Luke carried out research project “Competitive solution based on Finnish knowledge for management of up- to-date forest resource data in Russia (ISKRA)” to develop a cost-efficient solution for collecting information. “Beyond Visual Line of Sight” (BVLOS) drones were used to cover an area of 18,000 hectares in four days. BVLOS is one of the most promising concepts in the commercial drone world today, as it enables service providers to cover huge areas in a relatively short period of time, with spatial resolution of one cm per pixel. The project partners in Russia received permission to fly BVLOS in the Republic of Karelia, and they followed all local regulations related to obtaining and handling aerial data.
“BVLOS will change the market for commercial drone users, offering a cheaper alternative to current applications such as airplanes and helicopters. The relatively low human involvement will drive costs down, leaving only questions of regulation and data processing. With BVLOS, the latter requires different approaches than those of traditional consumer drones due to the large size of data”, said Eugene Lopatin, senior scientist at Luke.
Mapping 13 million trees
During the ISKRA project, the tree-wise forest inventory was carried out on an 18,000-hectare area leased by the participating pilot company in the Republic of Karelia. A total of 13,652,458 trees were mapped using drone data and data processing algorithms developed for the project. Each tree’s height, breast height diameter, species and age were measured.
In order to fulfill the local Russian forest inventory standard (lesoustroitelnaya instrukciya, 2018), the tree-wise information was aggregated and delineated into 3,067 stands, each with its own attributes. It was noted that this local standard requires a large average stand size, causing a significant loss of value of tree-wise information for practical forest management.
Potential in both sides of the border
The project demonstrates a huge potential of drones for smart forest management not only in Russia but also in Finland. The drones could be applied to forest inventory, as well as to improving forest operations, including the assessment of the need for thinning young stands, the evaluation of the quality of forest regeneration, and the assessment of the state of planted young seedlings, as well as the evaluation of annual growth performance for every single tree, stem quality, seedling delivery to planting locations, and seed spraying. In addition, the drones could assist in the creation of “digital forest twins” (i.e. virtual forests based on real tree-wise 3D data).
The MOTTI stand simulator, widely utilized in practical forestry in Finland, was produced in Russian language in the ISKRA project. It can be used by Russian forestry experts to assess results of different forest management practices on total roundwood removals and economic profitability, for example. The Russian version of MOTTI simulator supports export of Finnish know-how to Russia.
The development and testing of a method suitable for Russia was facilitated by funding from the European Regional Development Fund and the Regional Council of North Karelia.