By Scott McEwan

MOST would associate the outdoors with switching off from today’s technology-driven world. However, smart technology and the Internet of Things (IoT) is proving that, to protect our natural beauty spots across the UK, technology has an essential place amongst the outdoors.

During the pandemic increasing numbers took to green spaces which quickly became overcrowded. Parks in cities saw large crowds descend as those without gardens needed open space, while unprecedented numbers headed to popular beauty spots across the UK which received record numbers of visitors.

Clearly there was a public safety concern with safe distancing during the pandemic, however this also resulted in issues with traffic and litter, with the risk of longer term accelerated wear of green spaces and facilities.

This is where we are seeing technology marry up with nature to accrue and access data that will help manage surges of tourism in a safe and sustainable way. Through the installation of gateways and sensor devices, organisations and councils managing our green spaces can monitor usage trends across beauty spots through solutions such as car park and footfall monitoring. This allows for visitors to be redirected, in real time, and encouraged to visit other locations which are less populated, alleviating traffic issues, reducing beauty spot wear and tear and providing the public with a better overall visitor experience.

Of course, the use of data within such spaces is not new but the dramatic surge of outdoor activity during the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly driven the demand and focused the need to gather data on visitor numbers. And now, with an increased availability of suitable IoT networks paired with low-cost, low-power battery-operated sensors, we are seeing an increase in the deployment of such solutions and the gathering of usage data.

Recent projects have seen us install sensors in green spaces across the UK, including work with the Cairngorms National Park Authority where we are managing routes to prevent the degradation of natural beauty spots. We are also working with South London Partnerships to review whether the local community are getting the best use out of seven local parks, if investment is needed and if the pandemic has shifted trends in local green spaces.

Access to data in our green spaces can also provide a picture of what areas need maintenance work, how the air quality contrasts with other populated areas and where funding is best allocated, while it can also support funding applications and understand what equipment and facilities are utilised the most.

Once we are able to gain a true representation of the ways in which the UK’s vast number of beauty spots are used, we can protect them and create longevity for future generations to come. As we rely more heavily on technology within day-to-day life, we are likely to see this seep into the natural environment to connect the outdoors for a safer and more sustainable experience and, as we look ahead, it will be a priority for the protection of our green spaces.

Scott McEwan is chief commercial officer at North