A US infrastructure giant plans to use tree-planting drones, robotic soil-sampling rovers and satellite technology as it turns part of a Highland estate into a “live laboratory” in what is said to be the first rewilding project of its kind in the world.
Los Angeles-based Aecom has said its five-year project to restore the natural environment of 100 acres of land near Whitebridge, east of Loch Ness, could lead to a network of similar sites being established across the UK.
Improvements to the area’s “natural capital,” which refers to the stock of renewable and non-renewable resources such as plants, animals, air, water, soils and minerals will be meticulously measured and documented as ancient Caledonian forest and locally-extinct species are brought back.
Aecom believes that using the land, which is mostly covered by commercial forestry, as the “first natural capital laboratory of its kind” will identify and demonstrate the “environmental and social benefits of rewilding.”
The company’s director of sustainability, Robert Spencer, said: “Primarily, the natural capital laboratory is about restoring a stunning slice of the Scottish Highlands back to what it was.
“But we also see this live laboratory as a way to demonstrate the value of conserving and enhancing ecosystems, including benefits to wellbeing, health and economic prosperity. We expect this will effect real change among businesses and organisations with significant land assets, and encourage wider uptake of natural capital thinking.
“This project could be one of a network of natural capital sites across the UK.”
Aecom will trial AI to reduce costs of data collection and analysis.
The firm’s principal environmental economist, Chris White, added: “The laboratory allows Aecom to test and trial fast-evolving technologies in environmental monitoring, so that we can prove what works before asking our clients to invest and embrace new techniques on their projects.”