An Oxford-based startup has an ambitious plan to combat deforestation by planting one billion trees a year by using drones.
BioCarbon Engineering is exploring new precision planting methods and mapping techniques to achieve this goal. “We are going to change the world one billion trees at a time,” said CEO and former NASA engineer Lauren Fletcher. “The only option we previously had was hand planting, which is slow and really expensive. This method can’t keep up with industry scale deforestation. We are hoping that our technologies will provide opportunities to really scale up reforestation and replanting rates.”
At the current rate, up to 26 billion trees are being destroyed every year in comparison to the 15 billion that are being replanted. BioCarbon has improved previously flawed dry seeding by air methods and minimised the human effort needed in the process. It uses drones to fly above an area and estimate the success rate of restoration.
Then, the drones descend lower and spread out pods filled with pregerminated seeds that are covered in a nutritious hydrogel. (source: www.biocarbonengineering.com) Where two humans could manage to plant up to 3 000 seeds per day, Fletcher says that his drones would aim to plant up to 36 000 seeds a day. Another benefit is that the drones can penetrate areas that people would find difficult to access.
Fletcher has highlighted Brazil or South Africa as the first possible sight for the project.
The project was the finalist in the Drones for Good competition in the United Arab Emirates, reaching the semi-final stage.
Monocultures or ecosystems?
There is a world of difference between just planting trees and restoring entire ecosystems. Monocultures find their use in agriculture. Planting a monoculture means planting a single crop that requires much human input to be sustained in the long run. Monocultures are susceptible to diseases, pests, pathogens and adverse environmental conditions.
Monocultures of trees provide little resources for wildlife and exist for one purpose: further harvesting of trees. Ecosystems, on the other hand, are communities. They include microbes, fungi, animals – small and big, and many different types of vegetation, all interacting together and with their environment (soil, water, air).
Ecosystems work because the existence of one species enables other species to thrive. Ecosystems create a balance in the environment and ensure long-term viability and sustainability of the area restored. BioCarbon Engineering is focused on ecosystem restoration as the driving goal of the technology and hopes that this approach will become a standard tool that forest restoration organisations will be able to use when it is the right tool for the right location and conditions.