First ever UK digital crop map from satellite data

Great Britain in Crops Map 2015The first ever digital map of the UK’s arable crops has been created through an innovative collaboration between environmental researchers and business using data from the Copernicus Sentinel-1 Radar Satellite.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) has joined forces with Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd (RSAC) to produce Land Cover plus: Crops. It combines CEH’s existing UK Land Cover Map with new analysis of radar satellite data to map arable crops and grassland at the field level.

Land Cover plus: Crops is one of the first operational products to be obtained from the European Copernicus Sentinel Mission, which is a long-term programme providing a series of satellites for reliable, repeated monitoring of the earth surface.

A time series of Sentinel-1 radar data have been used to produce the 2015 map, with more than 350 individual images of the UK being processed covering the whole crop growing season. Radar data are not affected by cloud cover and can be acquired day or night under all weather conditions.

Over the next three years, crop maps will be updated annually, building up rotational cropping information for the whole UK. From 2016 onwards crop mapping will also incorporate the use of Sentinel-2 optical data.

Over the next three years, crop maps will be updated annually, building up rotational cropping information for the whole UK

Annual mapping of arable crops over the whole country brings a range of potential applications, including the analysis of crop rotations and changing cropping patterns for crop science, as well as uses in catchment-sensitive farming, improved catchment modelling, wildlife conservation and the potential evaluation of crop diseases.

Better evidence to inform planning and decison-making

More precise knowledge of crop areas and field locations will provide policy-makers, regulatory agencies and land managers with better evidence to inform planning and decision-making.

Detail from Land Cover plus Crops Map 2015 showing crop types
Above: detail from Land Cover plus: Crops. Note, white areas are non-agricultural. Land Cover Plus: Crops © NERC (CEH) 2016; © Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd 2016. © Crown Copyright 2007 OS 100017572. Above right: GB map (pre-production image minus Northern Ireland).

The Land Cover plus: Crops vector product will be available to licence from March 2016 for the whole of the UK or for customised areas or crop types.

Dr Daniel Morton, lead CEH scientist on the project, said: “This product follows a fascinating and successful body of research funded by NERC and Innovate UK and highlights the importance of the ESA Sentinel programme. A colleague once likened the pre-Sentinel era to sitting under a dripping tap not knowing when the next useful satellite image would arrive. The arrival of freely available Sentinel data is analogous to the tap now gushing and the research and business opportunities this presents are countless.

“It is a great privilege to be associated with the first national-scale product to exploit the Sentinel-1 mission and I look forward to future collaborations with Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd.”

Nicholas Corker, Innovation Manager at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, said, “The Crop map project with RSAC is a great example of collaboration and co-production to produce an innovative product that will benefit both business and science. In its use of Copernicus data, this project fits squarely within the aspirations of Defra’s road map for Earth Observation.”

"The Crop map project with RSAC is a great example of collaboration and co-production to produce an innovative product that will benefit both business and science"

Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd Managing Director Mike Wooding said, “Not only is Land Cover plus: Crops the first ever crop map of the UK, we also believe it to be the world’s first detailed national or regional crop map based on satellite radar data. 

“It is a product of excellent collaboration between Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology. With the enlarging family of Sentinel satellites, we are now working at ways of providing earlier crop intelligence and planning the launch of another significant new product."

Additional information

Product and pricing information is available via www.ceh.ac.uk/crops2015

Land Cover plus: Crops was developed using funding from Innovate UK and the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Land Cover plus: Crops is believed to be the first predominantly satellite radar-derived parcel-based crop map. Scientists in Canada have produced a national crop map which combined optical and Radarsat data.

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology issued a press release about this article. Contact the CEH Press Office for more details.

Remote Sensing Applications Consultants Ltd

CEH Land Cover Map 2007

Related links

Information on the Sentinel-1 mission from the European Space Agency

Road map for the use of Earth Observation across Defra 2015-2020

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