Who we are
Surrey Wildlife Trust is the only organisation with a mission to increase and safeguard biodiversity and bio abundance in Surrey. With the impacts of the climate and nature crisis becoming more apparent and severe by the day, this mission could not be more urgent or important. As we manage some 60 wildlife reserves across the county, the Trust places unprecedented importance on developing partnerships with businesses, public bodies, communities and individuals to address the scale of this challenge and build a movement for change that works at every level of society. Our partnership with the world-leading Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Surrey, through which we have developed the Space4Nature project, exemplifies this approach and could deliver huge benefits to our county and potentially beyond.
What is 'More Space4Nature'?
We are combining the power of Earth observation satellites 350 miles away in outer space with the enthusiasm and dedication of Citizen Science volunteers to help nature recover and thrive, making our landscapes healthier and more resilient for people and wildlife.
See our project updates in our Space4Nature Storymap...
Why is it needed?
We know that Nature is in crisis. The UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world and 41% of our species have declined since 1970.
Over the past 50 years, urbanisation, agriculture, pollution and climate change have all caused the nation's plants and animals to decline. This is a trend that has continued unabated within the last decade despite major local efforts to reverse these losses.
In Surrey, one third of our species are at risk of local extinction and 626 species have already gone extinct, including beautiful species like the Pine Marten, Wryneck, and Duke of Burgundy Butterfly. A further 972 species are now in decline in our county. This decline affects everyone, reducing our quality of life and making our world a poorer place in every sense.
How does it work?
Space4Nature is now developing the tools to address this decline. Our groundbreaking project aspires to support Surrey Wildlife Trust’s mission to restore and connect fragmented habitats across our county, providing wildlife with easier access to shelter, food and breeding opportunities, and reversing the decline in biodiversity.
Working in partnership with the University of Surrey and others, we are taking high resolution Earth observation satellite images to monitor the type and condition of specific habitats. Artificial Intelligence algorithms are then used to identify similar habitats on a county-wide scale. For the Artificial Intelligence or ‘machine learning’ systems to work effectively, we have been recruiting and training volunteer Citizen Scientists to carry out ground level habitat surveys which the AI software will learn from to identify similar pockets of habitat with complete accuracy.
The project so far
Thanks to support from Players of the Peoples Postcode Lottery we have made a fantastic start working on chalk grassland and heathland habitats across Surrey. These are among the most beautiful and biodiverse places in the UK and represent some of the world’s most important and threatened habitats. Species found here range from Dartford Warblers and Sand Lizards to a huge variety of pollinators and wildflowers which are found in few other locations. Local communities and visitors from further afield gain significant health, mental health, developmental and recreational benefits from access to these locations.
In our first year, we have trained more than 130 citizen scientists and collected habitat data from a number of test sites. The collected data is being layered with other variables by the team at the University of Surrey who are running algorithms that predict similar habitat elsewhere in the county. This gives us the starting point for identifying areas that can be restored and potentially linked together to create the corridors of habitat that species need to survive.
Our citizen science programme has been joined by a wide range of individuals from experienced biological recorders to interested wildlife enthusiasts and undergraduate students. We are also signposting our volunteers to local wildlife groups and national recording schemes and societies so that conservation skills can be developed and safeguarded for the future.
We have strong links with landowners, local authorities and other wildlife organisations and are exploring how we scale up the approach to other habitats beyond Surrey.
But there is so much more we can do…
Why do we need additional funding?
To address the wholesale challenges to wildlife across Surrey we need to extend Space4Nature to other habitats. “More Space4Nature” will enable us to use our existing approach to assess woodlands - specifically the extent and effectiveness of new and regenerating woodland. Our work on chalk grassland also needs to be extended to include other irreplaceable and species-rich types of grassland.
Funding is therefore needed to broaden the research capacity at the University of Surrey, increase the number of test sites that are brought into the programme and acquire more very high-resolution data sets to support the machine learning process. It will also enable us to recruit more citizen scientist volunteers and future champions for nature recovery in Surrey.
Within our overall funding target, each contribution of £103,000 will enable us to run “More Space4Nature” for one year and process data for 3 test sites of suitable habitat types.
Once developed, the Space4Nature tool will be an open access mapping platform for implementing nature recovery on the ground. Through our existing networks and the work of SWT’s Nature-Based Solutions team, we will then be able to plan restoration work and signpost funding streams for landowners. The end result will be: enlarged and better buffered protected areas, additional sites for nature (or stepping stones) and an overall better-connected landscape for wildlife in Surrey. The status and health of these actions will in turn be monitored remotely through the Space4Nature technology.
The bigger picture
Whilst we are working with this technology at a local level, the potential for it to scale beyond Surrey is huge. We are already engaging with other wildlife organisations, National Parks, Local Authorities, landowners, private companies, and many more to showcase our work and explore applications to other habitat type elsewhere in the UK. As an endorsement of the potential of this work, the project has already received accreditation by the Space4Climate initiative: a group of international organisations working to monitor, understand and contain climate change and its effects worldwide. Academic papers will also promote Space4Nature to the global research community.