Leicester scientists win Space Oscar for pioneering research to reduce deforestation

Research that has led to a mobile app to help combat illegal logging has been recognised internationally.

Professor Heiko Balzter from our School of Geography, Geology and the Environment and researchers Dr Ciaran Robb and Dr Pedro Rodriguez-Veiga have been recognised with an international award for pioneering research to reduce the devastating effects of deforestation. 

The Copernicus Masters is an international competition which awards prizes to innovative solutions, developments and ideas for business and society based on Earth observation data.

Professor Balzter and his team have won the prestigious Sustainable Living Challenge 2017 award by the Satellite Applications Catapult, under the umbrella of Copernicus, the European Programme for Earth Observation.

The prize is awarded for Forest Sentinel, a system that sends out rapid deforestation alerts to a mobile app and enables communication with hundreds and thousands of app users in the field via a central dashboard. This enables effective protection of forest assets from illegal logging.

Professor Balzter said: “We want to achieve a breakthrough in the fight against illegal logging with the Forest Sentinel system. The powerful integration of satellite images with a mobile phone app and a big data analytics capability provides a step change in the ability of organisations to respond effectively to the loss of forest land.

“The system has been designed with the needs of user organisations at the forefront of our thinking. The Kenya Forest Service and the forestry stakeholder organisations there have helped in defining what it is the service needs to deliver. We are also grateful to our industry partner Ukall Ltd in Nairobi with whom we have solved the integration of satellite information with a powerful app-based communication system.”

Professor Balzter has also been selected to participate in the Copernicus Accelerator programme, where he will be assigned with a mentor that will provide business and technical coaching for approximately one year.

The Forest Sentinel project involved expertise from the National Centre for Earth Observation at the University of Leicester, the Kenya Forest Service and UKALL Ltd.