North East

UK Space Agency Scoping Study

Space capability and natural capital


NICRE and Newcastle University's School of Natural and Environmental Sciences were awarded £18,000 from the UK Space Agency to identify space capabilities, skills and challenges in natural capital and ecosystem services monitoring and management in the North East.

Using the Rural Design Centre’s design-thinking expertise and suppported by the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, the three-month scoping study determined the demand for, and feasibility of, setting up a regional initiative to develop space capabilities for monitoring, managing and mapping natural assets.

The objectives of the study were to:

  • determine how space sector capabilities inform our understanding of natural ecosystems
  • engage regional partners to improve accessibility to, and utilisation of, space technologies and data
  • develop an opportunity review for a future regional project.


A main component of engagement throughout the scoping study focused on one-on-one consultation with key stakeholders representing three broad categories:

  1. Natural asset stewards (land managers, advisors, owners)
  2. Space sector businesses (consultants, analysts, software providers)
  3. Researchers with relevant expertise (natural capital accounting, Earth Observation, agro-ecological land management, agro-forestry, etc.).

During this consultation process, more than 185 individuals were contacted about the project by email, with a total of 96 one-on-one meetings taking place representing more than 40 organisations.

Key themes emerged from these meetings, which then informed and were corroborated by two design-thinking events in Durham and Northumberland with a cross-section of different types of organisations.

Across the two events, 36 individuals participated, representing 27 different organisations.

The events focused on challenges in natural asset monitoring and management and the specific barriers to applying satellite technology and data in this area. The priority themes and regional opportunities from the one-on-one consultations and design-thinking events form an Opportunity Review to support further funding and project development.


The Opportunity Review provides an outline for system structuring for future project and funding development for satellite applications in natural asset management in the North East. This includes priority challenges to address, and specific regional opportunities to apply, the identified themes for system structuring around a future project.

Priority Challenge Themes

1) Metrics and Indicators: What to measure and how to do it with space technology/satellite applications

  1. Targeting resources/technology/staff time
  2. Addressing the disconnect between requirements for Environmental Land Management payment schemes (Local Nature Recovery Strategies, e.g. Biodiversity Net Gain) and what can be measured
  3. Assigning value to habitats and savings in management practices.

2) Understanding and Capacity: Upskilling and building the knowledge base in Earth Observation and land management sectors

  1. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) training
  2. Messaging about Earth Observation capability for land management.

3) Marketplace and Exchange: Improving data access and affordability

  1. Data sharing/collaboration (e.g., forum to access data)
  2. Knowledge exchange.

Specific Regional Needs

1) Biodiversity and habitat quality

Managing for improvement, including restoration

2) Extreme events

Preparation for and response to storm damage, wildfires, flooding, etc.

3) Water quality

Measuring and monitoring quality for coastal areas and inland large and small waterbodies

4) Species monitoring

Monitoring key species, as indicators, and as pests to control (e.g. deer damage, invasive species, insects and diseases)

Next steps

As a continuation of the scoping process a proposal formulation session took place on 19 April with a small group of engaged regional stakeholders. The evet included a facilitated discussion on the desirability, viability and feasibility of the following project options defined by the project team:

  1. Natural Capital ‘Living Lab’: pilot natural capital assessment and management enabled through space technology within a specific area/regional asset (Natural Capital Laboratory example). Potential assets to focus on: Forestry, peatland, agriculture, water
  2. North East satellite data platform: information from satellite applications for different end-users (land management, emergency response, etc.). Data to inform ‘Living Lab’: temporal and spatial data
  3. Skills development/training: Support element for networks/organisations that want to access satellite data. Capability within ‘Living Lab’: skills and expertise to deploy natural capital asset resource

The scoping study may be complete, but there are on-going discussion about how best to take forward these ideas for a regional project, including as smaller case studies. If you are interested in learning more about the scoping activity and/or further projects, please contact Amelia Magistrali.