The Environmental IoT: Understanding and Managing the Natural Environment through Internet of Things Technology

Lead Research Organisation: Lancaster University
Department Name: Computing & Communications

Abstract

The Internet of Things (IoT) represents the next major step for the Internet as it evolves from a communication substrate that connects computers to one that connects and embraces everyday objects (things). This has the potential to revolutionize many different sectors of the economy and society more generally, e.g. enabling smart cities, smart transport systems, intelligent management of energy supplies, etc, all enabled by data collection from sensors. Most research in the Internet of Things has been carried out in cities and urban areas more generally. In our view, IoT has even more potential in rural environments, providing real-time data streams to support a deep understanding of environmental inter-dependencies and the subsequent support for holistic management strategies. More specifically, we argue that the combination of IoT technology coupled with Cloud Computing enables a paradigm shift in our understanding and management of the natural environment in times of unprecedented environmental change.

This project will illustrate and evaluate the potential of IoT technology in a given catchment, the Conwy. Through this, we will deliver:

1. An integrated distributed systems infrastructure consisting of an experimental Internet of Things also linking to a cloud computing environment, and achieving interoperability across the resultant complex system;

2. A set of techniques to discover and study inter-dependencies across disparate real-time data streams representing different environmental facets, at potentially different geographical locations and at different scales;

3. Two end user driven applications based on the underlying IoT/ cloud infrastructure demonstrating the impact of a more integrative approach to science and how it can inform holistic environmental management, e.g. across land and water management.

The proposed research involves a world class, cross-disciplinary team bringing together the expertise of the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University and the Environment Centre Wales (incorporating CEH and the University of Bangor). The project also has a strong Stakeholders Group involving representatives of key beneficiaries of the work including: Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales (merged Environment Agency-Wales, Forestry Commission Wales, Countryside Council for Wales), Welsh Government and Conwy CC.

Planned Impact

The Environmental IoT project represents a first attempt to instrument and manage an environmental catchment in all its facets, across different geographical locations and at all its scales, for the benefit of the key stakeholders associated with that catchment - farmers and associated agricultural businesses, the water industry, tourists and tourism related businesses, and society more generally. This has the potential to completely transform these associated businesses, enabling critical areas such as integrated land and water management, coastal zone protection and precision agriculture.

More specifically, we see major potential for impact in a number of areas.

Firstly, we see significant potential for impact on the key industries around environmental management including those related to water, agriculture, forestries, fisheries and tourism. The storyboards in particular will act as a means of communication to these sectors. One of the main challenges in the Conwy and many other catchments / landscapes is the potential conflict arising from the needs of different industries, and the need for decision support tools to future-proof against climate change. GDP associated for Wales and the UK indicate all are important to local and national economies to varying degrees, and balancing their requirements is a major challenge for both industry and government alike. It is also noteworthy that the TSB recognizes the economic importance of environmental data (see its recent call on 'Solving business problems with environmental data') and potential for growth in industries from the innovative use of such data.

Secondly, we see major impact on government, national and local, and on policy makers more generally through providing a scientific, data-driven basis for integrated environmental management and to reverse the silo management that is all to prevalent in this area. This feeds strongly into the Living with Environmental Change agenda.

Other areas of impact include our desired transformative impact on science and also significant contributions to our underlying academic disciplines see statement of Academic Beneficiaries).

In the Pathways to Impact document, we highlight a sophisticated strategy for realising this impact. Highlights of this strategy include:

1. The involvement of a Stakeholders Group as our key vehicle for end user engagement and (local/ national aspects of) dissemination and exploitation;
2. Complementary approaches to international dissemination through the Belmont Forum;
3. An open approach to stakeholder involvement, to extend the membership of this group;
4. The use of a co-design workshop at the start of the project to develop our storyboards;
5. The use of an agile/ iterative development approach designed to maximise the involvement of our stakeholders in software development, through its inherent feedback mechanism.

The initial membership of our Stakeholders Group is impressive: Welsh Water, Natural Resources Wales (merged Environment Agency-Wales, Forestry Commission Wales, Countryside Council for Wales), Welsh Government and Conwy CC.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Water finds its way - everything is connected (an artistic piece by Somewhere Nowhere) 
Description It's common sense that everything is connected, right? Well, maybe, but patterns of interconnection and robust data can challenge us to step aside from what we think we know and explore new and more effective ways of living sustainably. The Conwy River oozes out of the ground high in the Migneint Hills, a watery seep of countless rhylls following the course of least resistance and pooling together in the valley. It travels downhill, and north, to eventually reach the coast. We've been getting to know the river and some of the people who live in its valley, walking in the cloud-drenched higher lands, visiting the river as it widens and passes through reed beds and woodland, and strolling along the sandy edges of Conwy Bay. We were invited to give our response to the place and the project - the Environmental Internet of Things - by Professor Gordon Blair at Lancaster University, working in partnership with scientists and analysts from Bangor University, the British Geological Survey (BGS) and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact A collection of photographs and writing was used for a mobile exhibition which will be shown in several venues (and has been displayed at the Royal Welsh Show) and the artists also created a booklet which is linked from the website below. 
URL http://www.somewhere-nowhere.com/projects/water-finds-its-way
 
Description We have achieved significant intellectual understanding of the role of Internet of Things technology in the understanding of the natural environment and supporting appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies. This has also been a major cross-disciplinary collaboration between computer scientists and different branches of environmental science.
Exploitation Route This work has fed directly into the award of a 5-year EPSRC Senior Fellowship for Prof. Gordon Blair - on Digital Technology and Living with Environmental Change.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment

URL http://www.environmental-iot.com/
 
Description The research has received widespread attention from the media, especially around the concept of the Internet of Sheep. The work has also fed into thinking about the role of IoT technology in the environmental and agriculture sectors. In 2022, Prof. Blair (the PI from the project) has taken up a job as Head of Environmental Digital Strategy at UKCEH (one of the partners in the project). Experiences from this project are influencing this strategy and work practices within UKCEH around more integrated monitoring infrastructure, building on IoT practices.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment
Impact Types Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description EPSRC Senior Fellowship in Digital Technology and Living with Environmental Change
Amount £2,503,462 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/P002285/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2016 
End 06/2021
 
Description BBC News Story: Why sheep could be fitted with wifi sensors 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Environmental IoT project featured on BBC News
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-31188251
 
Description Everything is connected: A booklet presenting an artistic response to the Environmental Internet of Things project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact What does it mean to be interconnected? Our work as somewhere-nowhere involves looking at connections in nature, and between people and the natural world. This booklet is our reflection on The Environmental Internet of Things, which is a pilot scheme using real time data and interdisciplinary research in the Conwy Valley. Its aim is to build foundations for integrated systems that help to inform landscape management decisions that deliver benefits for the environment and for people. Coastal zone protection and precision agriculture are part of this.

The Environmental Internet of Things project is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) through its Digital Economy Programme. It is being led by Professor Gordon Blair of Lancaster University, and is being delivered through a partnership involving Lancaster University, University of Bangor, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and the British Geological Survey.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.somewhere-nowhere.com/projects/water-finds-its-way
 
Description Invited speaker at BBSRC workshop on IoT technology in understanding and management of crop and livestock diseases 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited speaker at a BBSRC workshop in November 2015 on the role of IoT technology in understanding and management of crop and livestock diseases - fed into the recently published 'Vision and High-level Strategy for Animal and Plant Health Research to 2020 and Beyond' with its vision of a UK Animal and Plant Health IoT (UK-APHIoT)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2015
 
Description Press release: Move over smart cities - the Internet of Things is off to the Country 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release from Lancaster University Press Office based on the EPSRC funded Environmental IoT project. This particular story went viral and was reported in countless media outlets and blogs including CNN, the BBC News, BBC Radio 5 (live interview), Wired, The Register, the Atlantic, NFU Online, and many others.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/articles/2014/move-over-smart-cities--the-internet-of-things-is-off-...
 
Description Stakeholder engagement event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As part of the Environmental IoT event, we contributed to a Conwy Catchment Stakeholder event on 22nd February, 2016 (the second event like this). This targeted the full range of stakeholders associated with this catchment including the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, the water industry, the farming community and related industries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Stakeholder engagement event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact As part of the Environmental IoT event, we contributed to a Conwy Catchment Stakeholder event on 16th June, 2015. This targeted the full range of stakeholders associated with this catchment including the Welsh Government, Natural Resources Wales, the water industry, the farming community and related industries.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Stakeholder engagement event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As part of the Environmental IoT event, we contributed to a Conwy Catchment Stakeholder event on 13th February, 2017 (the third event like this). This targeted the full range of stakeholders associated with this catchment with about 30 peopel in attendance from the National Trust, Natural Resources Wales, RSPB, Conwy County Borough council, Bangor University, Exeter University, CEH, Welsh Water and the Snowdonia National Park. For this event, we presented an exhibition prepared by artists working on the project (somewhere nowhere).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Stand at Royal Welsh Show (18-21 July 2016) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Environmental Internet of Things project organised a stand at the Royal Welsh Show in 2016 as a key outreach event targeting the general public. We presented a large display wall based on work by artists working with us on the project (somewhere nowhere), with the title of water finds its way.

The stand was within the Countryside Care area of the show which includes major wildlife NGOs and NRW plus Dwr Cymru (Welsh Water), HE providers and smaller conservation charities. Lesley Griffiths, Cabinet Secretary for environment and Rural Affairs and Sir Derek Jones, Permanent Secretary of the Welsh Government, visited the stand and saw the display, and talked with Bridget Emmett (PI, CEH) at some length.

It is estimated that around 80,000 people saw the stand over the 4 days of the show.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.somewhere-nowhere.com/projects/water-finds-its-way
 
Description Workshop on sensors and sensing technologies for effective land management: production agriculture and the environment 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact One day Workshop - Wednesday, 29th June 2016

Sensors and sensing technologies for effective land management: production agriculture and the environment
Venue: Henfaes Research Centre (Farming Connect Innovation Site), Bangor University, Wales, LL33 0LB.

Goals: To share latest research, development and application of sensing technologies that promotes sustainable agricultural production, and generates dialogue between the inventors, researchers and users of sensing technologies to accelerate their application, and generate new collaborations.
Format: The Workshop will address the use of sensors and sensing technologies for effective land management via: invited lectures in three themes (see outline programme below below), organised demonstrations of technologies during an extended lunch break; and a session to discuss innovative links in technologies.

What is the future of Sensor Development and Use?
What things dare we attempt to sense and how do we optimise sensor function?
Speaker: Toby Mottram (eCow)
How might we link sensors, systems and networks for best effect?
Speaker: Bruce Grieve (University of Manchester)
How can we push the boundaries from 'fixed/managed' sensors across time and space?
How much can we sense beneath our feet (Rhizosphere-plot scale)? Speaker: Rory Shaw (Bangor University)
What is the future of whole-farm - smart agriculture sensing (field-farm scale)?
Speaker: Therese Cory / Saverio Romeo (Beecham Research)
How do we capitalise on real-time data (M2M, IoT approaches)?
Speaker: Gordon Blair (Lancaster University)
What can we tell from the air (farm-landscape scale)? Speaker: Dan Morton (CEH)
How can we best use sensors to interrogate livestock?
What sensors work for livestock now and where might we go?
Speaker: Mark Rutter (Harper Adams University)
Example of livestock-borne sensor use / virtual fences. Speaker: Tony Waterhouse (SRUC)
How do we maximize tag capacity and deal with big data? Speaker: Mark Holton (Swansea University)
How far can we push our understanding of animal behaviour, 'opinion' and 'state' with sensors?
Speaker: Rory Wilson (Swansea University).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.bangor.ac.uk/news/events/sensors-and-sensing-technologies-for-effective-land-management-...