The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) has teamed up with environmental charity Earth Trust to use artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor wildlife at an Oxfordshire wetlands site.

An autonomous biodiversity monitoring station has been installed on the Clifton Meadow floodplain adjacent to the River Thames, south of Burcot. It will record the calls of birds and bats, and photograph small mammals and moths. UKCEH scientists will then use AI software to identify species. Measuring equipment will record rainfall, wind speed and humidity to complement data on the site's biodiversity.

Earth Trust has been working with neighbouring landowners to create a series of wetland habitats in the area as part of its River of Life projects, in order to improve water quality, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and flood alleviation. The monitoring station is set to remain at Clifton Meadows for many years, and by tracking changes to species richness and atmospheric conditions at the site, Earth Trust can scientifically demonstrate the value of wetlands. It will also share data from the monitoring station via social media.

Biodiversity monitoring station in a field

The Biodiversity monitoring station installed at Earth Trust's Clifton Meadow beside the river Thames near Burcot in Oxfordshire. Photo by Ian Nutt, Earth Trust.

Dr Tom August, Computational Ecologist at UKCEH, says, "New sensor and AI technology is having a big impact on how ecologists monitor biodiversity. UKCEH is harnessing a range of these developments to build and test autonomous monitoring stations for monitoring wildlife, from bats to birds and moths to mammals.

“Working with the Earth Trust is a fantastic opportunity to test these technologies 'in the wild' and at the same time gather data on the wildlife colonising this inspirational new habitat creation project."

The project at Clifton Meadows follows UKCEH’s work with Network Rail to develop a biodiversity monitoring station to record lineside biodiversity.

Ian Nutt, Director of Programmes and Partnerships at Earth Trust, adds “Since the new features of this wetland area have just begun bedding in, it’s the perfect opportunity for us to monitor the impact from inception. We are so grateful to UKCEH for their support and innovation.”

Globally, using AI to classify animal species from photographs is still in development, though Dr August says software to identify moths may be available next year.

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