Vodafone NB-IoT explores role of trees in climate change

  • August 5, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

Vodafone is working with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and Forest Research, an organisation for forestry and tree-related research, to explore how IoT technology can monitor the part trees play in tackling climate change.
The pilot will use NB-IoT technology to monitor tree growth and the impacts of environmental change on the UK’s forests. By connecting the trees, vast amounts of data can be collected and analysed quickly and efficiently.
Specialist sensors have been attached to trees in two forests and are connected via Vodafone’s NB-IoT network. Data are collected and transmitted to Defra and Forest Research where analytics will assess the impact of temperature, humidity and soil moisture on tree growth and function.
Measuring tree growth is important in enabling scientists to estimate the contribution of trees to climate change mitigation as a result of their ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere.
“Tackling climate change requires radical thinking and our forests will be vital to this,” said Anne Sheehan, director of Vodafone Business in the UK. “Our IoT technology enables us to connect trees and monitor performance, which is a perfect example of how technology can be used in new ways to help create a more sustainable future.”
The three-month trial is under way in Forestry England’s Alice Holt forest, near Farnham in Surrey, and Harwood forest, near Rothbury in Northumberland. It is the first of its kind in the UK.
Defra and Forest Research will use the results to inform policy makers and the public of how the changing environment impacts tree growth and the benefits that trees can provide by storing carbon.
The trial follows Defra’s 25-year Environment Plan, which outlined an ambition to increase woodland cover in England and the government’s commitment to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025. To help reach these targets, the recently announced £640m Nature for Climate Fund will invest in tree-planting alongside other environmental restoration over the next five years.
“Trees are a unique natural resource that play a crucial role in combating the biodiversity and climate crises we face,” said Malcolm McKee, chief technology officer at Defra. “This exciting partnership uses newly emerging IoT technologies to improve our understanding of the impacts of environmental change on our nation’s forests, which will help inform our policymaking. The new technology provides better quality data and, importantly, allows us to monitor places that current technologies cannot reach. We are always looking for ways to explore how using innovative new technologies can improve our data gathering.”
This initial focus is on the monitoring of forests, but the technologies will be applicable to monitoring other things in the environment.
“This innovative collaborative project has the potential to transform the way we are able to collect and analyse data, and to reduce the need for frequent site visits, especially at remote rural locations,” said Matthew Wilkinson (pictured), research scientist at Forest Research. “The project will also help us to gather more data, which is critical to targeting efforts to measure the contribution of individual trees to climate change. If the trial is successful, we hope it will expand to other areas of environmental monitoring and signify a step change in the amount of data we are able to collect and analyse.”
Vodafone’s sensors can withstand harsh environments. The sensors are attached to several trees within different areas of the two forests, and data are constantly gathered and transmitted back to a user-friendly web portal accessible by both Defra and Forest Research. There they use data analytics to track the impact of external factors on tree growth and function, without the need for frequent site visits.
NB-IoT operates within a very narrow radio band frequency enabling wider coverage and deeper penetration than traditional networks. As a result, this technology is suitable for use across large areas, underground or within buildings. It also operates at low power so specially designed batteries within devices such as sensors can last up to ten years.
Defra is the UK government department responsible for safeguarding the natural environment, supporting the food and farming industry, and sustaining a thriving rural economy. Defra is a ministerial department, supported by 33 agencies and public bodies.
Forest Research is Great Britain’s principal organisation for forestry and tree-related research and is renowned for the provision of evidence and scientific services in support of sustainable forestry.