Rise of the drones: using drones for forest monitoring

Marrying traditional community knowledge-gathering with the latest in surveillance technology

Imagine a camera floating above a forest, regularly transmitting precise images to the community or the organisation monitoring it for conservation and management. Science fiction? Read on.

Tropical forests are presently under several large-scale threats making their monitoring critical. Community-based forest monitoring (CBFM) has been shown to be useful to maximise the collection of such information. Jaime and others discuss the practicalities of scaling this up further by using state-of-the-art technology. In their recent article, they reviewed the literature on the use of small drones and evaluate their feasibility for CBFM. The advantages among others include high spatial and temporal resolution, relatively low price and importantly, acquisition of the data by communities themselves, thereby empowering them. The disadvantages are mostly technology-limited which will improve in the future, except a few such as ethical issues, ambiguous national laws and social repercussions.

Decentralisation of data acquisition and management, they mention is also possible using drone assisted CBFM. They suggest that the prospect of having access to such fine-level information will attract communities to partake in CBFM and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation projects, to better manage their forests and to monitor illegal activities such as logging and mining. This information will also be useful for governments, non-governmental organisations and scientists.

They also provide recommendations for deploying drone-assisted CBFM programs based on their practical experience. They suggest testing the feasibility of drones in existing CBFM programmes since while practicability, replicability and incorporation of local community knowledge are the advantages, the constraints are of program implementation, enthusiasm and decision-making of the communities as well as ethical issues. Once these nuances are addressed, the use of drones promises a landscape-level method for forest conservation, management and monitoring, which is the need of the hour.


Galvez J et al. 2014. Small drones for community-based forest monitoring: An assessment of their feasibility and potential in tropical areas. Forests 5(6): 1481–1507.

This article is from issue


2015 Mar