AECOM launches ‘living laboratory’ in the Scottish Highlands

The Natural Capital Laboratory, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, will document the rewilding of a 100-acre site near Loch Ness

Global infrastructure firm AECOM has launched a five-year ‘living laboratory’ project in the Scottish Highlands that will be used for trials of new technologies to help measure and monitor environmental change.

The Natural Capital Laboratory, believed to be the first of its kind in the world, will document the rewilding of a 100-acre site near Loch Ness.

Natural capital refers to the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.

AECOM will work with the landowners, their local advisors and conservation charity The Lifescape Project to restore the site’s natural environment, bringing back native forest, engaging local communities and reintroducing locally extinct species, with the aim of identifying and demonstrating the environmental and social benefits of rewilding.

Initial estimates suggest replanting the whole site would store around 550 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to the emissions from 120 cars.

AECOM says it will use the Laboratory as a test bed for emerging ecological approaches, using technologies such as drones to plant trees, robotic rovers to undertake soil sampling, exploring the use of AI techniques to reduce the costs associated with data collection and analysis as well as using space satellites to capture aerial imagery, map habitats and assess their condition.

Drawing on the data collected through the use of these innovative techniques, the firm will develop a set of natural and social capital accounts for the site to record, quantify and value environmental and social changes for each year of the experiment.

Chris White, Principal Environmental Economist, AECOM, said: “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.

“Environmental consultancy work is becoming increasingly data driven. Armed with an array of new technologies, we want to push forward digital transformation by collecting and bringing together a richness of data that could bring major efficiencies to this type of work.

“The fight against climate change and global biodiversity loss requires bold new approaches to managing the natural environment and our Natural Capital Laboratory provides the platform to help us create new solutions to tackle these big environmental problems.”

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