During the last century natural and semi-natural grasslands in the Baltic States have rapidly decreased. Because of intesive agricultural practices using heavy machinery, they nowadays cover just 0.6% of the Latvia's territory. Loss of grassland and biodiversity leads to the degradation or even to total destruction of the ecosystem functions and services, which eventually require large financial investments, if to be provided artificially. Natural grasslands give indispensable nutrients for ecological farming; they naturally neutralize agricultural pesticides; and they are beautiful and culturally valuable landscapes, which can be used for outdoor activities and tourism development.
In order to support conservation efforts and ease monitoring, there is an increasing demand for precise assessment of grasslands and biodiversity in general. To address this need, the researchers of the Institute for Environmental Solutions have launched an initiative for mapping and assessment of natural and semi-natural grasslands by applying a novel approach. While traditionally classification and evaluation of grasland is performed through the use of manually collected field data, IES is investigating the capacities of the most sophisticated sensor technologies.
The airborne remote sensing system named ARSENAL (Airborne Surveillance and Environmental Monitoring System) is used for the survey of grasslands in three study areas located in Cēsis County, Madliena Parish and the surrounding of Šovītes Farm in Latvia. ARSENAL integrates several hyperspectral sensors, LiDAR laser scanner and high resolution RGB camera. Such combined use of different sensors let the researchers gain more precise data for the measurement and assessment of the vegetation composition and condition, and differentiation and classification of grasslands.
The study is carried out in the frame of an international project "Integrated planning tool to ensure viability of grasslands" (Acronym - VIVA GRASS) LIFE113 ENV/LT/000189, and the outcome will be used to raise the awareness of local authorities, landowners and businesses of the value of grassland ecosystems as well as to demonstrate the potential usage of grasslands as means for building socially responsible and economically sustainable local communities.
The VIVA GRASS project is financed by the European Union LIFE+ Nature and Biodiversity Programme.