16 Oct 2015

Council introduces drones to monitor forests

7:49 am on 16 October 2015

The Marlborough District Council is now using drones to monitor forestry effects on what it says is the most challenging terrain in New Zealand.

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Photo: 123RF

The council's environment committee heard yesterday that the industry has improved compliance standards with forestry roads and skid sites.

Committee chairman Peter Jerram said the use of drones in previously inaccessible areas will make it easier to more accurately monitor forestry and other industries with potentially negative environmental impacts.

"The general discussion among councillors was that the report was good and clearly there's been progress by the industry in terms of compliance with standards, with roading and skid sites - certainly better than it has been in the past," Mr Jerram said.

A council report showed that in the last year compliance staff checked 156 skid sites at 24 forestry blocks covering 10,000 hectares - 13 percent of planted forests in Marlborough. Areas monitored included those where earthworks and harvesting had recently happened.

Of these sites, almost half were fully compliant after the first monitoring visit, and did not require follow-up. By the end of the monitoring period, almost 80 percent had achieved compliance, the report said.

The council said it would re-assess the monitoring programme once a 90 percent compliance rating was achieved.

Mr Jerram said the council had a legal obligation to keep a close watch on activities, in order to protect the Sounds' fragile hillside and coastal environments. The recent introduction of the council-owned and operated drone would make the task easier.

"Council has a strong responsibility under the Resource Management Act to monitor these sites, to make sure there's no productive soil loss, and to ensure the waterways and water quality is protected.

"What we've got in Marlborough is some of the steepest production forestry land in New Zealand, and some of the most erodible. We think we need to keep a pretty high standard of forest operations here ensure we maintain the sustainability of our natural resource," Mr Jerram said.

He said drones were a "very cheap tool" compared to a helicopter.

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