Forestry - Tree plantation management

3D model of the tree plantation 


  • Goal:  Demonstrate how drone mapping can assist in the management of tree plantations
  • Tech: Skyray fixed wing drone, Canon S100 camera, Tower app, Drone Deploy
  • Conditions: Late afternoon, windy
  • Outcome: Drone images have the potential to enable precision plantation management, however time of day is critical for gathering quality imagery.

Basic forestry maintenance involves monitoring plantation health, data collection for regenerative coupes and mapping harvested coupes. Additional tasks include identifying wedge tail eagle nests, infrared on fire grounds plus firebreak/track maintenance. Drone imagery can assist with all of these tasks because of it's low altitude, the imagery created is of a higher resolution than traditional aerial imagery such as satellite.

Map of tree plantation, notice large section missing from top right
I found a tree plantation not far from the family farm in Nannup, WA so I decided to have a go at mapping it. This was a challenging mission as (quite obviously) there are a lot of trees around and very little safe landing zones. To add extra challenge, it was difficult to maintain VLOS (visual line of sight) as the trees were around 6 metres high and very close together. Nevertheless I covered all my checklists as well as my risk assessment and went ahead with the mission.

Extra diligence was paid to pre-flight checks due to the demanding conditions
Standing on roof of car to maintain VLOS
Whilst the flight mission was a success I'm not overly happy with the results of the processing, for two different reasons. Firstly there was a large section of the map that was within the flight plan, however it did not process, I'm guessing because of the poor quality images with so much shadow. The second problem was to do with how much the long tree shadows have affected the quality and usability of the map.

You can see how much the long shadows affect the quality of the image
Despite the shortcomings in the imagery, Drone Deploy still proved to be a very useful tool for measuring distances, areas etc. I used a rudimentary technique for getting an estimate of the total tree count by using the 'area tool' to mark out a 20x20m square, I then counted the trees within that square. It wasn't difficult to then extrapolate those findings over the entire area mapped to get a 'fairly accurate' tree count. 

In this 20x20m square, I counted 23 trees. This can then be extrapolated across the area of the map to get an estimate on tree numbers

Traditionally (I am told) in order to arrive at an estimate for a tree count two people would walk the tree plantation for an entire day counting as they went. How efficient is that technique compared to using a drone to get the imagery and then using a laptop and online interface to do the counting? The added extra benefits of the drone imagery is that you've recorded it forever, it can be re-looked at and analysed anytime the user requires.    

This is the area of a natural formation of trees (possible around a water course) within the plantation
Whilst initial results are promising, I'd like to go back to the same plantation and conduct the mission again under more favourable conditions, to then see what the possibilities really are for the future of drone imagery within the forestry industry.

The Aero Scout launching within the confines of a tree plantation
This has been another 'drone adventure' in aerial surveying, inspection and mapping by The Aero Scout.
Location: Carlotta WA 6275, Australia