A Bold Plan to Plant 1 Billion Trees a Year With Drones

By Carl Engelking | April 7, 2015 3:42 pm


An engineering firm in the United Kingdom wants to change the world 1 billion trees at a time, and they’re relying on drones to do it.

The team at BioCarbon Engineering has developed an experimental system that uses drones to plant thousands of trees per day in deforested areas. The aerial technique is cheaper and faster than planting trees manually, and makes it possible for conservationists to counteract voracious industrial appetites for trees. BioCarbon is so confident in its drone tree planters, the company expects to plant 1 billion trees every year.

Let it Grow, Let it Grow

There are a variety of tree-planting techniques, but the two most popular are planting by hand and dispersing dry seeds from the air. Planting by hand yields good results but is labor-intensive and time-consuming. Spreading dry seeds en masse results in low uptake rates. BioCarbon’s drone planting strategy strikes a balance between these two methods.

The technique consists of two stages: reconnaissance, then planting. First, drones fitted with mapping technology fly over a selected area to construct 3-D maps of farmland and plantations in need of trees. Then, planting drones are sent out to conduct high-volume, precision seeding.

The tree-planting drones follow a pre-planned path and use pressurized air to fire germinated seedpods into the ground at specified locations from a height of about 6 to 9 feet. The pods are encapsulated in a nutrient-rich hydrogel, which provides food for the young trees. After planting, the same mapping drones can revisit reforested areas to assess their progress.

Show Me the Money

BioCarbon claims the prototype system is capable of planting tens of thousands of trees each day, which helped it earn $21,000 in funding last year from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. They expect to have the full system up and running by the end of the year.

According to a recent study of 34 countries around the world, the rate of deforestation has accelerated 62 percent between the 1990s and 2000s. For the sake of our planet, let’s hope these aerial tree planters can get to work sooner rather than later.


Photo credit: eltoro69/ Shutterstock

MORE ABOUT: conservation, drones, UAVs
  • Jamtse

    Ok. But what kinds of seeds are they using?
    If they’re using organic, native seeds, perfect.
    Anything less, like gmo tainted seeds, then they’re creating a nightmare.

  • Bruce

    Following from Jamtse’s comments… what SPECIES will they be planting and WHERE? Do they have an ecologist or botanist on the team? Is the objective to restore forest ecosystems or just plant trees and sequester carbon. These are two very different aims which I believe will affect the long-term success of the project.

  • laserjoe57

    Lack of any mention of forest ecologists who should have conceived, collaborated or Led this project is very worrisome. Techno-fixes are a dime a dozen, but this application is far more complex than engineers realize. Knowing exactly what natives to plant in what relative abundances, when to plant, the seed or seedling predators that await these “pods”, antagonistic effects of the gels, root competition as seedlings attempt to establish, shade requirements for tender young seedlings, and any ecologist could go on and on. When you use the right humans (local communities) to plant, then perhaps they might prevent others (from local or outside) from sabotage. Make your maps with drones; plant your forests using humans and wildlife.

  • Astrid M. van Woudenberg

    seed collection in temperate coniferous forests is labour intensive…and you need local seed, preferably from the oldest trees on site that can provide the greatest genetic diversity. so how will collection be done? sounds like these are sites already deforested, so what’s the seed source and is succession being permitted…as pointed out where are the team ecologists and geneticists?

  • http://treemaintenance.blogspot.co.uk/ Daneil

    can you assure the positive outcome of this project? If the seeds are on the same type and composition from the existing tree around the area I think that is good enough. The tricky part I would agree is the seed collection.

  • Rejen

    If the goal is simply forest cover and carbon sequestration then this could work. If ecological outcomes are required i.e. the reconstruction of forest using genetically appropriate stock so it forms local systems containing a diversity of habitat and food sources for local people and animals, then there are currently some serious short falls in this approach.

  • http://arbormasters.com/landscape-overview-2/ Karen – arbormasters.com

    Hmm. I wonder if that quadcopter could resist the shoot impact in balance. Theory is all and good but there are always problems we don’t even think of before in practical situation. And even more, if you shoot them from 6-9 feet above ground, air pressure will need to taken into account. It will diminish the speed thus reduce its power to penetrate the soil.



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