Ways in which scientists are using drones to help endangered species were described by ecologist and conservationist Professor Serge Wich during a fascinating lecture at Reaseheath last week.

Professor Wich, a Professor in Primate Biology at Liverpool John Moores University, is a leading exponent of the emerging technology and is a founder of ConservationDrones.org, a worldwide initiative to inspire other conservationists to adopt its use.

For his lecture Professor Wich, who uses drones to successfully monitor the tree canopy nests of wild orang-utan and chimpanzees, delivered an update on recent advances in drone and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology and examples of the conservation challenges they are being used to solve.

He described how drones enabled researchers to monitor wildlife with far less disturbance than a human observer, and were more efficient at mapping habitat because they could cover larger distances and greater areas than a person on foot.

Updated software was now allowing researchers to examine individual animal’s health, perform population counts, observe migration routes and monitor trends in populations. Drones were also being used in national parks to provide evidence of illegal human activities such as logging, land changes, poaching or bushmeat hunters.  As well as being a good deterrent, they were providing irrefutable evidence to inform government decision makers.

Future developments using integrated technology would enable scientists to identify and count specific bird, mammal and tree species, upload material from remote camera traps and to carry out acoustic surveys of birds.

Said Professor Wich: “Drones have a fascinating future. They are enabling us to gain an amazing amount of information which we cannot get any other way.  We are already seeing much better results than we ever did when we relied on mapping from the ground, particularly as much of the areas of interest are inaccessible rain forests or across water or mountains. Drones are much more efficient and cheaper, they can achieve in hours what it would previously have taken a team of people days to collect.”

The lecture was attended by undergraduates studying on our animal science degrees and by interested staff. Professor Wich also gave a masterclass in technological advancements in conservation to BSc Wildlife and Conservation undergraduates earlier in the day.

HE Lecturer Ben Coleman, who organised Serge’s visit, said: “We have been very privileged. This has been a fascinating opportunity to hear a leading scientist talk about how technology is helping him in his fieldwork. I’m sure that our undergraduates will have found it very inspirational and of great help to them when they are considering their career options.”

Caption: Professor Serge Wich with undergraduates Kamarra Green, Anne-Marie Smith (Chair, Birds of Prey Society), Sam Smith, Joe Cooper, Isabelle Beckett (Chair, Conservation Society),  Rosie Woodcock and Lucy Brierley (Chair, Film and Photographic Society)