Natural laboratory aims to restore ‘stunning slice of Scottish Highlands’

A natural laboratory has been created in the Scottish Highlands in a bid to restore the local area.

The ‘Natural Capital Laboratory’ was launched by AECOM on a 100-acre site near Loch Ness, with the intention of bringing back native forests and locally extinct species to the site, whilst also using techniques and technologies tested for future restorations of natural land.

AECOM say that rare species such as Pine Martens have already been spotted on the site, and that 550 tonnes of CO2 will be stored each year when the ancient Caledonian forest is restored.

Technological approaches will be taken throughout the project, with drones used to plant trees, robotic rovers undertaking soil sampling, artificial intelligence used to reduce data collection and analysis costs and space satellites being utilised for aerial imagery, mapping of habitats and the assessment of their condition.

Robert Spencer, director at AECOM 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 affect 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. With growing demand for public and private sector organisations to better value and account for natural capital, they will need to consider how they interact with and manage their natural assets in everyday decision-making.”

Chris White, principal environmental economist at AECOM 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. 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.”