Government funds £1.2m AI project to help planning for protected areas

Initiative aims to make better use of data

Credit: Grinner/CC BY-SA 4.0

Scotland’s national nature agency has launched the next phase of a £1.25m project to use artificial intelligence to improve access to information about Scotland’s protected natural areas.

The NatureScot project is looking at how emerging technologies can make use of underused data to better manage and inform people about Scotland’s areas of natural beauty, particularly in relation to proposed development. 

Funded through the UK government’s GovTech Catalyst challenge, a £20m fund for companies to come up with digital solutions to public sector problems, two finalists have now been selected from the 24 who entered the NatureScot challenge to develop the final product.

The two finalists, Informed Solutions and Astrosat/Intelligent Reality, will work to create a new online service that will combine previously underused data on planning and protected areas with a range of new technologies, including artificial intelligence and remote sensing, to provide immediate and clear information to land managers, developers and the public.

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It is hoped that the final product can be adapted for wider use in Scotland, the UK and around the world to improve access to land use information and advice.

The project is also being supported by the Scottish Government CivTech team and Scottish Enterprise.

Brian Eardley, NatureScot’s protected areas manager, said: “Scotland’s protected areas safeguard our most special places for nature and provide many benefits to individuals, communities and society as a whole. It’s vital that any proposals for change on protected areas don’t compromise, and indeed preferably enhance, these sites. However, one of the biggest problems land managers, developers or interested members of the public often encounter is getting hold of the relevant information they need and getting it quickly.”

He added: “This project aims to revolutionise that process with a platform that can predict potential impacts on protected areas and provide immediate tailored information and advice for any specific site. It has the potential to benefit a wide range of users from the developer unsure of whether to progress a proposal to members of the public interested in their local protected area. We look forward to working with our finalists over the next phase to make this vision a reality.”


Sam Trendall

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