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Trimble Catalyst Boosts Efforts to Restore Forests and Degraded Lands

Amsterdam-based Land Life Company works to restore lands devastated by wildfire and urbanization. It’s one of a handful of companies capable of large-scale tree planting services needed to reestablish forests. With projects in 25 countries, Land Life is known for reinvigorating soils to offset carbon released by commercial activities. Land Life has planted more than two million trees since its founding in 2013. 

Successful tree planting comes in clusters. At each location, trees are planted in groups to protect against the wind. The trees spread naturally to fill in the forest. But it’s difficult to plant trees on a large scale, and Land Life plants trees by the thousands.

To maximize success, Land Life monitors parameters such as height and health of its young trees. Combined with information on the tree species and environment, the data helps with adjusting variables such as watering.

The company is also working to improve monitoring productivity by developing an in-house smartphone app to simplify data capture on a tree’s health. For the information to be useful, field teams must repeatedly revisit the same tree, not a simple task when dealing with thousands of trees. That’s where GNSS comes in.

For years, Land Life attached tags to the trees. While the tags ensured accurate identification of trees, they required personnel to crawl on the ground to scan the tag. So, Land Life turned to satellite positioning using GPS receivers built into worker’s smartphones. That decision led to another challenge: accuracy.

In open fields, a smartphone’s GPS is accurate to roughly three meters. The accuracy is worse when working in treed areas. Land Life needed to measure within one meter.

Professional-grade GPS or GNSS receivers could easily meet the sub-meter requirements, but Land Life was concerned about cost. They had already invested in data collection software and needed to add higher accuracy positioning to their workflow.

Land Life selected the Trimble® R1 GNSS receiver, which provides real-time positioning with sub-meter accuracy. Using a Bluetooth connection, the R1 can stream position data to apps running on iOS or Android smartphones. Land Life incorporated these positions into its monitoring apps so workers could use existing workflows.

Land Life can also mount a R1 onto tree planting machines, enabling workers to capture the location of newly planted trees. “When you have sub-meter accuracy flowing from the R1, it's easy to find your way to a specific tree,” said Tom Janmaat, a data scientist at Land Life. 

Land Life is also using Trimble Catalyst receiver, which combines a small GNSS antenna with software running on an Android-based tablet or smartphone and feeds positions into Land Life’s in-house app. By turning the smartphone into a GNSS system that can produce centimeter accuracy, Catalyst reduces the cost of positioning. Catalyst uses data from the Trimble RTX positioning service to produce sub-meter accuracy. 

Janmaat is keen to share his knowledge gained about technology and reforesting. “We are doing technologically challenging stuff that we apply towards a sustainable goal,” he said. “We are confident this will make us more effective in planting trees, and reforesting parts of the earth that could otherwise be difficult to recover. It enables us to work where others might not succeed.”