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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T015403/1
Title: Using drones to protect biodiversity and spur economic growth in Madagascar
Principal Investigator: Longmore, Professor S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Astrophysics Research Institute
Organisation: Liverpool John Moores University
Scheme: UKRI
Starts: 01 October 2019 Ends: 31 March 2021 Value (£): 574,039
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Conservation Ecology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
14 Aug 2019 GCRF GRTA Panel19 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The World Wildlife Fund for Nature estimates that up to five species of life on our planet become extinct every day. A recent study compiling surveys of animal populations around the globe shows that this rate of "biological annihilation" means a sixth mass extinction in Earth's history is under way and is more severe than previously feared. This astonishing rate of decline has potentially catastrophic consequences, not just for the ecosystems where the species are lost, but also for the world economy and planet as a whole. The World Bank estimates that ecosystems provide $33 trillion every year to the global economy: more than the GDP of USA and Europe combined. So it is no surprise that at a recent World Economic Forum the top business leaders, international political leaders and intellectuals around the globe identified biodiversity loss and consequent ecosystem collapse as one of the 10 foremost dangers facing humanity. There is a fundamental need to routinely monitor animal populations so that conservation strategies can be optimized with such information.

The island nation of Madagascar is at the forefront of this biodiversity crisis. Since it split from the African continent an estimated 160 million years ago, Madagascar has developed its own distinct ecosystems and extraordinary wildlife. Approximately 95 percent of Madagascar's reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth. Madagascar is therefore one of Earth's hottest biodiversity hotspots. However, the current rate of biodiversity loss is so high that recent studies suggest this is the last chance to avoid many habitats and species becoming extinct.

Over the last few years, with funding from the UK government, we have developed a low cost, robust, and simple to operate thermal-infrared drone system built from off-the-shelf components that can (semi)automatically detect, identify and locate animals and fires in thermal infrared footage. In April 2019, in collaboration with the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, we took the system to Madagascar and demonstrated that the system could successfully detect key tracer species of biodiversity and ecosystem health with a greatly increased efficiency over existing methods. Following this success, we are now seeking additional UK funding to build capacity in Madagascar to construct, maintain and fly drones, and begin systematic monitoring of biodiversity in key geographic areas. This will provide the key data that conservation agencies and the government need to ensure future policy decisions deliver sustainable economic growth while protecting and ensuring the long-term stability of the precious ecosystems. As biodiversity is a cornerstone of the country's economy, the proposal will deliver significant, long-term, social and economic impacts.

Throughout the project we will work closely with the Aviation Civil de Madagascar [Civil Aviation Authority of Madagascar], who are currently building a national framework and regulations for operating drones. Having been part of key UK Government panels shaping drone policy for many years, we have extensive experience to help ensure optimal safety and best practice are implemented in drone flight from the beginning. By speeding the uptake of drone technology in Madagascar, the project will act as a catalyst introducing the same transformative changes in all areas of economy and society seen in other countries.

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Organisation Website: http://www.livjm.ac.uk