Government backs ‘Net Zero’ Fera and Skylark project on Yorkshire estate

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Posted 8 months ago

A ‘Net Zero’ project at the Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire is benefitting from a share of the government’s £1.5 million Innovate UK programme, to help protect and enhance the future of the business and its natural landscape.Aimed at connecting businesses with cutting-edge digital tools that can help them reach sustainability ambitions, the Net Zero Living Digital Accelerator funding will support the use of Skylark’s strategic land use technology in combination with Fera Science Ltd’s LAND360 service at the 9,000-acre estate.

Paul Brown, head of remote sensing, GIS and spatial data science at Fera, explains how the LAND360 landscape assessment service is being used.

“Working alongside Skylark Analytics, we’re providing the Castle Howard team with as much detailed information as possible to help inform their land management plans for the next 50 years,” he says.

“The estate is looking at how they can increase biodiversity and carbon stocks, particularly in marginal farmland and parkland areas parkland. While striving towards the government’s 2050 ‘Net Zero’ goal, potential income opportunities for the business will be explored too.”

With attractive deals for habitat creation projects on offer to landowners, managers and farmers, Mr Brown says it is important to understand the options available and forecast potential results before committing to lengthy contracts.

This relies upon collating high quality, accurate data to work from.

He explains: “At Castle Howard, we’ve built a baseline that shows current biodiversity units and carbon stocks, to give us a benchmark to forecast from.

“We call this a ‘natural capital baseline’ – analysing up-to-date imagery, mainly from satellite platforms, as well as drones for more high resolution data, and on-the-ground surveys to create a habitat map of the estate that’s 90-95% accurate.

“This habitat map is then used to calculate current biodiversity units, using the Natural England metric tool, carbon stocks and carbon flux – which is the rate of carbon exchange via sequestration or emission.

“Using this, we can model potential investment plans for the estate and forecast how different decisions could work best for achieving sustainability and business income objectives.

“It also helps ensure the outcomes farmers and land owners can achieve, such as biodiversity units or carbon credits, are accurately valued. We want producers to get a fair deal, if and when they consider selling these to the marketplace.”

Fera’s collaboration with Skylark on this Innovate UK-funded project is helping to make the natural capital assessment technology as user-friendly as possible, Mr Brown adds.

“Using Skylark’s AR (augmented reality) technology, Castle Howard will actually be able to see how potential plans for the estate could look in 3D, underpinned by LAND360 data .

“Being able to play out different scenarios with real-life visualisation will build land managers’ confidence in making the right decisions, which is so vital ahead of signing up to long-term land use agreements.”

He concludes: “This in-depth analysis can also help highlight untapped opportunities for investing in biodiversity uplift or carbon sequestration, that could add a new income stream alongside what a farm or estate business is already doing.”

Jasper Hazell, CEO at Castle Howard Estates, shares his team’s excitement to be collaborating with Skylark and Fera.

He says: “This pioneering technology will help shape the way our land management decisions are made in the future, to help meet the challenges of improving biodiversity and achieving Net Zero.

“The Innovate UK Grant funding will kickstart this research, using Castle Howard as a pilot from which wider applications can be developed across the region and nationally.”

Fera’s natural capital assessment service, LAND360, helps farmers and land managers to measure, map and monitor their natural capital, so they can make more informed land use decisions. To find out more, visit: https://www.fera.co.uk/land360-land-management