The Use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to Determine Differences in Vegetation Cover: A Tool for Monitoring Coastal Wetland Restoration Schemes

Jonathan Dale, Niall Burnside, Charley Hill-Butler, Maureen Berg, Conor Strong, Heidi Burgess

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Managed realignment (MR) sites are being implemented to compensate for the loss of natural saltmarsh habitat due to sea level rise and anthropogenic pressures. However, MR sites have been recognised to have lower morphological variability and coverage of saltmarsh vegetation than natural saltmarsh sites, which have been linked with the legacy of the historic (terrestrial) land use. This study assesses the relationship between the morphology and vegetation coverage in three separate zones, associated with the legacy of historic reclamation, of a non-engineered MR site. The site was selected due to the phased historical reclamation, and because no pre-breaching landscaping or engineering works were carried out prior to the more recent and contemporary breaching of the site. Four vegetation indices (Excess Green Index, Green Chromatic Coordinate, Green-Red Vegetation Index, and Visible Atmospherically Resistant Index) were calculated from unmanned aerial vehicle imagery; elevation, slope, and curvature surface models were calculated from a digital surface model (DSM) generated from the same imagery captured at the MR site. The imagery and DSM summarised the three zones present within the MR site and the adjacent external natural marsh, and were used to examine the site for areas of differing vegetation cover. Results indicated statistically significant differences between the vegetation indices across the three zones. Statistically significant differences in the vegetation indices were also found between the three zones and the external natural saltmarsh. However, it was only in the zone nearest the breach, and for
three of the four indices, that a moderate to strong correlation was found between elevation and the vegetation indices (r = 0.53 to 0.70). This zone was also the lowest in elevation and exhibited the lowest average value for all indices. No relationship was found between the vegetation indices and either the slope or curvature in any of the zones. The approach outlined in this paper provides coastal managers with a relatively low-cost, low-field time method of assessing the areas of vegetation development in MR sites. Moreover, the findings indicate the potential importance of considering the historic morphological and sedimentological changes in the MR sites. By combining data on the areas
of saltmarsh colonisation with a consideration of the site’s morphological and reclamation history, the areas likely to support saltmarsh vegetation can be remotely identified in the design of larger engineered MR sites maximising the compensation for the loss of saltmarsh habitat elsewhere.
Original languageEnglish
Article number4022
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2020


  • managed realignment
  • unmanned aerial vehicle
  • coastal geomorphology
  • coastal wetlands
  • Unmanned aerial vehicle
  • Coastal wetlands
  • Managed realignment
  • Coastal geomorphology


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