Written Evidence Submitted by Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, Senior Scientist at Zoological Society of London


I am a senior scientist in conservation biology, pioneering the use of earth observations to inform environmental resource management. I am also the UK representative on the Global Earth Observations (GEO) Programmes Board. I am submitting evidence as I suspect few entries will (a) consider and discuss the major role that satellite infrastructure play in ecology and conservation and (b) be made by stakeholders from the environmental sector.

The UK possesses an engaged community and skilled workforce at the intersection between earth observations and environmental resource management, which has driven many innovations and scientific advances in this sector, and ultimately supported the development of many business opportunities. The same could be said for climate science. Because of this, prospects for the UK’s global position as a space nation are very good, as the country excels in reaping off the benefits of satellite remote sensing data to inform various sectors in an ever more precise and robust way. However, there are a number of issues that are limiting growth in this area, namely (1) the lack of interdisciplinary training avenues that for example integrate remote sensing, climate science and biology/ecology in a common curriculum; (2) the lack of funding opportunities that support interdisciplinary work in these nexuses; and (3) the lack of diversity in people (in terms of protected characteristics, skills, experience and sectorial representation) driving the space strategies for the UK.

The next UK space strategy should take a more holistic and inclusive approach to identify emerging growth areas and put more emphasis on building and supporting highly interdisciplinary networks and initiatives, thereby creating more opportunity for innovation in data analysis and interpretation, a current strength that is too often discarded in favour of supporting infrastructure development. The strategy should also focus on how to train the next generation of innovators in the space industry sector, not only focusing on engineering and satellite remote sensing experts, but also on those people who may one day create new ways to use these data to inform various sectors, including the health and environmental ones. As such, increasing early familiarity with satellite remote sensing is key, and the basic principles of remote sensing and what these data can be used for should be taught broadly and early. Similarly, the strategy should look at ways to increase the uptake of ICT and coding courses at all education levels. Focusing this training strategy on ways to access untapped pools of talents is critical, as the space industry and community is too often seen as white male only territory; this lack of diversity likely hampers creativity and innovation.

Since the free release of satellite data by various space agencies and initiatives, the space sector as a whole has experienced a remarkable level of growth and diversification. As such, future opportunities for the UK in the space sector will be linked to UK nationals remaining able to access these free images. For many environmental applications, access to long-term data remains critical; therefore, the future strategy should consider balancing the costs and benefits of launching new UK missions with the costs and benefits associated with the maintenance of existing missions and associated access to data. Similarly, over the past decade, the number and diversity of businesses engaging with satellite launch and satellite data analyses has grown substantially. Yet links between space agencies, the research community and businesses remain rare. The future strategy should provide a roadmap for addressing this situation, highlighting ways to foster better dialogue and collaboration between these entities. This would improve coordination and boost innovation, enabling the UK space community as a whole to capitalise on opportunities in a more efficient way.

(April 2021)