The future of reforestation is very small, and very fast.

Drones are set to revolutionise the costly and time-consuming process of reforestation as new companies launch plans to replant and restore forests that have been stripped of trees by industrial-scale deforestation.

A fast worker can plant around 800 trees, or 2 acres, in a single day. But a single person, equipped with 15 drones, can plant 800 seeds in an hour, which equates to over 360 man hours at 1/10th of the cost of human labour.

The UK-based startup BioCarbon Engineering has launched a global mission to counter the widespread effects of clear-cutting – a harmful process which strips the planet of more than 26 billion trees each year.

Lauren Fletcher, BioCarbon’s CEO who spent more than 20 years as an engineer with NASA, says the only way to fight industrial-scale deforestation is with industrial-scale reforestation. Her plan is to plant as many as 1 billion trees a year – beginning with South Africa and the Amazonian jungles.

“Precision forestry,” as BioCarbon calls it, is a process of 5 parts. First, an aerial survey is undertaken which creates 3D maps of the area to be deforested. Then a seeding plan is made and a pattern decided on (based on the terrain data). Next, the seed pods are loaded into pressurised cannisters with germinated seeds immersed in a nutrient-rich gel.

Once the drones are loaded they are sent out. Flying at a height of 1 or 2 meters they follow planting patterns, firing the biodegradable seed pods into the ground. The pods break open upon impact, allowing the germinated seed a chance to take root.

The final step is to monitor the plant’s growth. This is done by the drones, which conduct low-level flights to assess the health of the sprouts and saplings.

The drones can reach places humans can’t typically reach, and they’re able to spread a variety of tree species as well as microorganisms and fungi designed to improve the soil quality.

The full operation will consist of a team of two operators running seven or eight drones simultaneously. Planting at about 10 pods per minute will equate to roughly 36,000 trees per day for each team. With 100 two-member teams—BioCarbon’s goal in the next 5-7 years—it expects to plant 1 billion trees a year over roughly 500,000 hectares.

According to a study published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU), the rate of tropical deforestation has risen 62 per cent between the 1990s and 2000s, thanks to the efficiency of tractors and more advanced equipment.

By rebuilding these forests, we can increase the quality of the local water and air, protect our environment, support families and bring jobs and products to the local areas.

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