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Remote sensing of upland vegetation: the potential of high spatial resolution satellite sensors


*Correspondence: Henny Mehner, School of Civil Engineering & Geosciences, University of Newcastle, Bedson Building, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK. E-mail:


Aim  Traditional methodologies of mapping vegetation, as carried out by ecologists, consist primarily of field surveying or mapping from aerial photography. Previous applications of satellite imagery for this task (e.g. Landsat TM and SPOT HRV) have been unsuccessful, as such imagery proved to have insufficient spatial resolution for mapping vegetation. This paper reports on a study to assess the capabilities of the recently launched remote sensing satellite sensor Ikonos, with improved capabilities, for mapping and monitoring upland vegetation using traditional image classification methods.

Location  The location is Northumberland National Park, UK.

Methods  Traditional remote sensing classification methodologies were applied to the Ikonos data and the outputs compared to ground data sets. This enabled an assessment of the value of the improved spatial resolution of satellite imagery for mapping upland vegetation. Post-classification methods were applied to remove noise and misclassified pixels and to create maps that were more in keeping with the information requirements of the NNPA for current management processes.

Results The approach adopted herein for quick and inexpensive land cover mapping was found to be capable of higher accuracy than achieved with previous approaches, highlighting the benefits of remote sensing for providing land cover maps.

Main conclusions  Ikonos imagery proved to be a useful tool for mapping upland vegetation across large areas and at fine spatial resolution, providing accuracies comparable to traditional mapping methods of ground surveys and aerial photography.