Researchers from the University of Twente (UT) have been asked by the province of Overijssel to find out more about wild animal populations in the region. On Wednesday 21 October, the partners involved in the study will begin a pilot study involving wild boars in the Engbertsdijkvenen Natura 2000 area. In addition to using innovative new technology, the project will also focus on better ways of combining existing data. For example, the researchers plan to use drones fitted with thermal cameras and compare the data collected with data from smart hidden cameras placed on the ground.
The province of Overijssel would like to pioneer the use of innovative technology to carry out its core tasks – such as nature management – better. For example, new technologies can help us to monitor the size of animal populations. In order to protect the habitat of a particular species or to prevent damage, it is important that we have an accurate picture of how many animals there are.
‘Wild boars are very good at hiding and are mainly active at night. That makes them an interesting species to focus on in this pilot,’ explains Provincial Executive for Overijssel Gert Harm ten Bolscher. DesignLab and researchers from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) of the University of Twente see plenty of opportunities when it comes to estimating wild animal populations more accurately. One such opportunity is to deploy drones equipped with thermal cameras.
In many nature reserves, plenty of data is already available from existing camera traps which photograph wild boars as they walk past, for example. ‘But that technique has not yet been used in the pilot area, Engbertsdijkvenen. An additional issue is that those camera traps capture everything – including other animal species and even people. That means that you end up with a lot of data that isn’t very relevant,’ explains Dr Panagiotis Nyktas, one of the researchers involved.
‘So we also want to collect other data, for example by using smart camera traps that are able to recognise whether they have detected a wild boar or some other species of animal,’ continues Nyktas. The programme manager at DesignLab, Maya van den Berg, will be responsible for handling observations made by local residents and other local stakeholders. That makes the study is a good example of citizen science, too – one of the themes of DesignLab. ‘If you happen to spot a wild boar, you can log it straight away on Waarneming.nl. That gives local residents a chance to take part in the project too.’
The project stems from an earlier challenge project, in which a team of DesignLab students took the first steps towards spotting wild boars using drones. Geert Harm ten Bolscher, member of the provincial executive for Overijssel, hopes that the pilot in Engbertsdijkvenen will be successful and can be expanded to include other locations. ‘We’d like to have a more accurate picture of the numbers of certain species in a number of our nature reserves, without disturbing the area.’
The University of Twente wants to help achieve this goal, together with the Forestry Commission and the Overijssel Fauna Management Unit. In the future, the partners plan to involve Wageningen University & Research in the research project so that more animal species and nature reserves can be included.