Satellite data will transform environmental understanding and protection

Satellite and Earth observation data can help improve water quality, increase biodiversity and manage our forests and woodland
Satellite and Earth observation data can help improve water quality, increase biodiversity and manage our forests and woodland

Europe’s first ever satellite programme designed to continuously monitor our planet’s health is now helping to protect and improve the UK’s precious natural environment, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss announced today.

Information from the Copernicus Earth Observation programme, launched by the European Union and European Space Agency, is being used by Defra to improve understanding of our environment and better inform our work to manage it.

Following record December rainfall in the north of England, Sentinel-1, one of the first two orbiting satellites in the programme, was activated to support the emergency response by providing rapid data on flooded farms and helping with recovery efforts.

Six pilot research projects across Defra are also uncovering how satellite and Earth observation data can help improve water quality, increase biodiversity and manage our forests and woodland. One project will see the creation of ‘Living Maps’, plotting natural features such as grasslands, marshes and woodland so we can better manage nature, improve pollination and reduce erosion in areas that need it most.

The new data could also help us manage our agricultural landscapes and speed up payments to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy.

Today Defra hosted an Earth Observation and Open Data event, which brought together academics, government and the private sector to explore future applications of this data.

Speaking ahead of the event, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: "We’re already making great strides in using Earth observation data to help people and communities across the UK – the information was a vital part of our flood recovery efforts and will help us identify and restore farmland across the country.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg and we have an ambitious 25 year plan for our environment. By generating huge amounts of invaluable information on our natural environment, Earth observation can help us deliver this."

That is why today we have brought together some of the best brains in the business to explore how else we can harness this data to create a cleaner, healthier environment which benefits everyone and will help preserve it for future generations."

The event follows the launch of the Earth Observation Roadmap last year, which Defra developed under the UK Space Agency’s ‘Space for Smarter Government Programme’ to make sure all policies are using satellite data to its full potential."

Elizabeth Truss added: "Data and smart ways of working should be at the heart of everything government does, which is why we’re working with experts in the field to realise the potential of Earth observation data.

Not only will this help us deliver our priorities quickly and efficiently, but the benefits to our growing economy could be huge. The Copernicus programme will be investing €4.2 billion up to 2020 to provide new environmental data – if UK businesses get on board to use this data, creating innovative products and services, we could see new jobs created across the country."

Catherine Mealing-Jones, Director of Growth at the UK Space Agency, said: "Today’s event showcases the vast potential of satellite data for use across government. Observing our Earth enhances our everyday lives, help departments save money and deliver better services for the taxpayer, as well as generating real returns for UK businesses.

Our Space for Smarter Government Programme is proud to have supported Defra in reaching this point – together, we can recognise the potential space offers to help make a difference for our country. I hope this project inspires others across the public sector to think about how space can help them."