Satellite earth observation for conservation monitoring

Using earth observation satellite data to tell us what is going on in Key Biodiversity Areas - which are important sites for conservation.

A landscape (as seen from the road near the President's Lodge site), Gola, Sierra Leone


Monitoring is essential in conservation, but field-based monitoring is limited. This project uses satellite image data to fill in the blanks in our knowledge about land cover condition and change.


  • To test existing datasets for Key Biodiviersity Areas (KBAs) and species monitoring.
  • To assess recent changes in state of KBAs in appropriate countries.
  • To inform RSPB and BirdLife International conservation priorities.
  • To work with the conservation and remote sensing communities.


In the last 12 years the use of remote sensing in conservation has expanded. Collaboration between conservationists and remote sensing practitioners has seen these data become a standard part of the toolbox.

During this time the access to satellite images, and processed images (eg global land cover products), and toolboxes to process data has also increased. Part of this has been due to a dialogue between both communities.

Consequently, we are now in a position to build upon these collaborations and deliver a system through which sites of conservation importance (KBAs) and other habitats can be monitored through remote sensing.

We know the most prevalent threats to Important Bird Areas relate to land cover change which can be measured from remote sensing. We know global data sets can be used to set conservation priorities and the impact of some management responses. Thus we have had great success to date. But it is time to bring these threads together and produce an operational system to monitor KBAs across the globe.

Planned Work

We will use available datasets, in conjunction with data providers as appropriate, to assess the state of KBAs and other habitats and pressures upon KBAs and other habitats.

The analysis will include piloting new toolboxes global data sets as they become available to identify which deliver for KBA monitoring and might be suited to BirdLife partners.

This work will be conducted in close collaboration with BirdLife International and their KBA programme.


  • Gained a high awareness of potential of satellite image data for monitoring in BirdLife and RSPB.
  • Identified land cover changes as major threats to species on IBAs.
  • Analysis of forest loss fed into BirdLife International's IBAs in danger programme.
  • Updated IUCN extinction risk for forest species based on remote sensing data.
  • Developed remote sensing conservation community.
  • Part of global discussions of role of remote sensing in conservation.


This project has been supported by funds from multiple sources including:


Coast on a stormy day

Dr Graeme Buchanan

Head of International, Conservation Science
Coast on a stormy day

Alison Beresford

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Tagged with: Country: UK Country: International Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Heathland Habitat: Marine and intertidal Habitat: Upland Habitat: Urban and suburban Habitat: Wetland Habitat: Woodland Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research