Permission to take off: Södra’s use of drones for forest management is approved

13 April 2017

Drones are to be used in forest management in Sweden’s Götaland area after Södra obtained permission to fly the remote operated machines.

The plan is to use the aerial devices to make it safer and more efficient to generate inventories of storm-affected forests. Previously, personnel had to walk through forests to find and record windfalls. The permit to use drones will also improve the regeneration potential of next-generation forest, Södra said.

Earlier this month, the County Administrative Board of Kronoberg approved Södra’s application to use drones all over Götaland. Södra is now permitted to use drones over the forest estates of its 50,000 members in the area.

Johan Malmqvist, project manager with Södra Skog, said the organisation was “happy” with the decision.

"The use of drones makes field work in forests safer, more time-efficient and comprehensive. It’s a good example of a new solution in the move towards digital forestry," he added.

"Today’s tree regeneration could be the answer to a fossil-free tomorrow. Tools like drones could become very important for quality assuring the roadmap toward a future bio-economy.”

Previously, plot sampling was used to determine the number of new seedlings across the entire regeneration area. Total inventories were impossible because of the time involved, but drones will now make this possible. Any sparsely planted areas that can be difficult to see from the ground will instead be identifiable from the air.

In October 2016, the Swedish Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the use of drones was covered by the Camera Surveillance Act.

Authorisation is conditional upon the protection of personal privacy. Södra is required to inform the public that a drone will be flown by putting up signs, for example, or informing residents in the area before flying a drone.

"Privacy will be ensured by not activating the camera until the drone reaches a certain height, making individuals impossible to identify. Should anyone still be in the photos, we will delete the material immediately. In many cases, we will only be using the camera for observation, not for photos, to make a general survey of the forest area," said Malmqvist.

Photo: Johan Malmqvist, project manager, Södra Skog. Image courtesy of Södra