Thesis subject

Earth Observation data to monitor agri-environmental-climate measures

The Environmental Systems Analysis Group provides the possibility for students to do their thesis in collaboration with our group. This is one of many possible thesis subjects. Please feel free to contact Nicolas Grondard MSc (right) for more information.

In addition to providing food, fibre and biomass, agriculture can deliver a variety of ecosystem services, like biodiversity conservation, water filtering, carbon sequestration and landscape aesthetics for recreation. Often, however, the use of agricultural landscapes is prioritized to the provision of food and feed, resulting in negative environmental impacts, such as soil erosion, nitrate leaching, or habitat and biodiversity loss. These negative environmental impacts decrease provision of ecosystem services by rural landscapes. To address this imbalance in the provision of food and feed on the one hand and other ecosystem services at the other hand, targeted policy instruments are required to ensure that these other ecosystem services are also provided. Contract-based approaches such as publicly funded agri-environmental-climate measures (AECM) in the context of Rural Development Programs (RDPs) and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) or privately negotiated and funded Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) can be important components of a diverse policy mix to support the provision of ecosystem services. But, even though such contract-based approaches already exist, the provision of ecosystem services by rural landscapes is currently not optimal. This calls for novel contract-based approaches which provide the right incentives to farmers to produce more environmental public goods and also allow them to have an appropriate income. A new, large EU project Contracts2.0 aims to develop these novel contract-based approaches.

In the framework of this EU project, this MSc thesis aims to assess how satellite earth observation data can be used to support the monitoring of effects of AECM on the environment. Since 2016 a new approach has been implemented in The Netherlands, whereby measures are coordinated by farmers collectives. One of the main objectives of AECM in the Netherlands is to increase areas of favourable habitat for farmland birds. Farmers receive subsidies to manage grasslands and croplands so that a mosaic of suitable areas at different stages of the life cycle is generated. Because of the novel farmers collectives approach, an increased spatial coordination of measures is expected. However, the effects of this new approach on the quality and connectivity of the habitats for farmland birds have not yet been monitored. Collection of data on birds habitats through field visits would be a long and costly process. Earth observation data might provide a very useful alternative. You will develop a method based on earth observation data to monitor the effects of measures on farmland management and habitat conditions. The method will contribute to evaluate the effects of AECM on habitats quality and connectivity for farmland birds. This information will be used to support the development of other novel contract-based approaches.

This thesis is recommended for students with a strong interest in satellite earth observation technologies. Prior experience with GIS and processing of earth observation data is needed.

Start time: t.b.d.

Contact: Nicolas Grondard (Nicolas.Grondard@wur.nl)