Category: Discussion

Earth Day Project 2021: An Autonomous Seed Planting Drone for Environmental Restoration

Back in 2014 I had just graduated from my environmental science degree and was eager to start a career in the environmental sector. I had more ideas than time back then, which is obvious from the notes that I was keeping. Fast forward to 2020, I had just completed my masters in sustainability studies, am looking for work, and there is a province wide lockdown. Despite languishing for most of the year, I figured with the time that the lockdown afforded me, I could try to create something epic. I dusted off my old notebooks, and decided this project was worth my time.

It has become increasingly clear that conservation is no longer enough when it comes to our current biodiversity crisis. We need active environmental restoration to solve the problems we are facing as a society. I wanted to create a tool that could scale to produce results for huge environmental restoration projects and be accessible for people and organizations for a reasonable cost.

For the past 4 months I’ve put in hundreds of hours to produce the Aspen. Its a fully autonomous drone capable of quickly broadcasting seed across large areas. The broadcasting wheel is interchangeable allowing users to spread up to 2.5kg of various seed types including treated tree seed, tallgrass, wildflower, clover and anything else you can imagine! (Edit: The Hopper in the video is a small one for testing) The drone is controlled by a base station that uploads a flight plan to the drone. Once the drone is ready, it takes off and completes the flight plan fully autonomously, spreading seed as it goes. The base station is capable of controlling multiple drones simultaneously, opening up possibilities for multiple drones to work in tandem to cover a huge area for restoration projects.

Broadcasting seed is never going to replace planting trees directly, but there are several methods for treating seed to increase their success rate that I have been researching. The University of Alberta has created an interesting seed coating that seems to increase the success rate of tree seeds to as high as 70%. This is definitely something that I would like to experiment with, as it may also assist with even broadcasting of the seed.

There’s still testing to carry out, and some refining to complete the design, but it is a working prototype ready to be put to the test. Please watch the video and let me know what you think! If you or your organization would like to work together to test the drone out on your project or a portion of your project, please let me know and I’m sure we can come up with an arrangement!

Also, if you or your organization are looking for a talented employee capable of making huge projects like this a reality, please reach out and lets have a conversation!

Bonus FAQ: I don’t understand, but several people have all asked “how high does it go?” Lets just say, I’m not going to test it out, but in theory it could ascend at 2m/s for 20 minutes. That works out to about 2.4km in altitude. At that point it would crash to the ground, probably never to be seen again.

Calculating π Using Lakes from the Land Between

Hey folks! I know I’m late to the party, but hey I post on the last week of the month, so happy π day! In addition to environmental shenanigans, I also enjoy some good olde mathematics goofiness, especially when there is some great geometry involved. So in celebration of this year’s π day, I thought I’d try and find some lakes in the Land Between that will give us as close an approximation of π as possible working backwards from their surface area.

For those of you unaware, π day happens every year on March 14th (3/14) due to the numerical date’s similarity to the value of π (3.14….)

The first problem to overcome when calculating pi from a lake’s geometry is the shoreline fractal problem ie. the coastal paradox. Essentially, depending on the length of the ruler you use, you can get wildly different results. A shoreline is a curved fractal that looks very different depending on the scale at which you view it. From an airplaine, details on the shore you could see at ground level totally vanish, while details under a microscope reveal even more intricate patterns within the shoreline. All of this means that it is actually quite difficult to measure the actual length of a shoreline, take this exaggerated example:

Here is Little Lake in Peterborough. Using 2 different length rulers I get different results for the shoreline length. As I increase the detail, the length of the shoreline increases by 0.23km! Thankfully for us, the Ministry of Natural Resources produces standardized map layers we can use to calculate the area of different lakes. We’ll use the map layer meant to be viewed at 1:100,000 scale.

For those of you who need a refresher, the formula for calculating the area of a circle can be done with the following formula:

A =\pi r^2

In order to calculate π we need to do some rearranging. For this problem the two givens we have are the lake’s “circumference” and it’s area. Unfortunately, this is where we need to fudge things a little bit. In order to calculate π we will need to have a radius in addition to the lake’s area. In order to calculate the radius we will take the average of 3 measurements of the lake’s diameter and divide by 2. So now are formula looks like this:

\pi = {A}\div{(\frac{r_{1}+r_{2} + r_{3}}{3}{)}^2}

Now that we know what our formula is, lets go find some lakes to measure. For starters, lets try the obvious, Round Lake near Havelock. Its in the name so it must be pretty close to a circle!

Is Round Lake the roundest? Stay tuned to find out!
\pi = {5,613,882m^2}\div{(\frac{1075m+1441m +1077m}{3}{)}^2}

Plugging all of that into a calculator gives us a value of pi that is equal to 3.91! Pretty good for a natural object, but can we do better? Is Round Lake the roundest of the lakes?

I’ll spare you the math on this one. Longford Lake is in the middle of nowhere, I’ve never visited, but it sure looks nice from space! Maybe I’ll check it out someday if its pi enough.

Is North Longford Round Enough?

With an average radius of 524m and an area of 1,140,948m2 North Longford clocks in at a pi value of 4.15. So sorry Longford, may you rest peacefully in continued obscurity.

Next up we’ll try Halls Lake north of Minden off Highway 35. Its a deep lake that is quite round with some nice trails nearby. Lets give it a shot!

Halls Lake: Pretty round don’t ya think?
\pi = {5,354,281m^2}\div{(\frac{1453m+1360m +1181m}{3}{)}^2}

All righty! We did the math (the monster math?) here at Stewards Notes and determined that Halls Lake is more round than Round Lake! Clocking in at a value of 3.02 for π! Congratulations Halls Lake! Be sure to visit Halls Lake some day and give a toast to how π it is.

What Might a Nature Based Recovery Look Like in the Kawarthas?

In 2020 the coronavirus devastated economies, put millions of people out of work, all at a time of global climate and ecological crisis. 2020 was also the year we entered into the UN’s Decade on Restoration that aims to “prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems worldwide”. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, you can agree that one way or another, we are in a time of crisis. A term that has been tossed around over the past year as a way out of the crisis is “a nature based recovery”.

Nature based recoveries are not a new idea, we can look to the past for models on what it might look like, putting millions of people to work while restoring our natural environments. One of the most ambitious conservation projects of all time was the Civilian Conservation Corps. Over the course of the program it employed nearly 3 million Americans while planting over 3,000,000,000 (Billion!) trees. A version of this program has been resurrected by the incoming Biden administration and is expected to present a plan within the next several months. It will be exciting to see it take shape over the coming years.

Embed from Getty Images

Closer to home, we can look to similar projects that helped employ masses of Canadians while enhancing our natural environment. Following the Guelph Conference and the subsequent establishment of the Ganaraska Region Conservation Authority there was a resolution to seek any practical project that would employ civilians in the post war era. The Ganaraska region had become a dustbowl due to the high rates of erosion caused by rampant deforestation and the underlying sandy soils easily being swept away by wind or rain. Restoring the Ganaraska Watershed seemed like an obvious candidate for the project. Over the next several years the Ganaraska Authority reforested over 10,000 acres of land while employing thousands of unemployed Canadians.

The benefits of these programs have extended far into the future. Today the Ganaraska watershed is a popular outdoor tourism destination, and is no longer subject to the destructive flooding it once was. Indeed, a University of Oregon study found that for every million dollars invested in watershed restoration it resulted in 16 new or sustained jobs and up to 2.5 million dollars in total economic activitiy. There are very few public sector investments that have rates of return that scale in a similar fashion.

Locally, what might a project of this scale look like that could employ many people while creating enormous ecological benefit? One such project that comes to mind is the Kawarthas Naturally Connected. The KNC is a natural heritage system plan developed over the past decade that aims to provide a linked network of conservation corridors across the Kawarthas. Perhaps a project that restores a ecological corridor from the Oak Ridges Moraine or Rice Lake in the south to the Kawartha Lakes in the north could be a great starting point? As an added benefit, perhaps a multi-day hiking trail could follow the corridor similar to the way the Ontario Waterfront Trail is used as a platform for restoring coastal ecosystems along the great lakes shoreline.

History has demonstrated that these environmental projects can have an enormous environmental and social benefit, hopefully our recovery can help lead to a sustainable future for everyone. The Kawarthas is a leader in environmental expertise and stewardship, if anyone can accomplish a nature based recovery, it is us! In 2016, the UN designated Peterborough a Regional Centre of Expertise for sustainability, lets put that designation to use and carry out a decade of restoration.

A Little Toolkit For Confronting Climate Inaction

2019 was heralded as the year that ended climate change denialism. Enter a new era, where we must face a new threat: inaction on climate change.

Just over a week ago I published a short writeup on my twitter feed explaining how an enormous fountain in our town was an outsised contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in our city. This was due to the sheer volume of electicity used to power the monstrous pumps that spewed a steady stream of water 6 stories into the air.


Stay Tuned, Steward’s Notes Will Be Back After This Short Break

The past two years of writing for Steward’s Notes has been an incredibly rewarding experience. Those of you who follow and comment and send me such pleasant emails really make this project a lot of fun, and it is much appreciated! As some of you may know, I have been in the process of writing a master’s thesis: Polycentric Models for Urban Greenspace Management. I am desperately trying to finish writing in the coming month, and I really need to set this project (Steward’s Notes) aside for a little bit. I miss you lots and I really can’t wait to come back! I have lots of exciting plans for the months and years ahead and I can’t wait for you all to take part. However I really need to hit the pause button for a little bit. Make sure you don’t miss the return by subscribing below! Thank you all for your understanding and I’ll likely see you in the new year!

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To fill the time, why not check out some of the most popular content of all time!

Reflections on a Year of Steward’s Notes

This year I’ll be celebrating 2 years of writing Steward’s Notes. This week I’ll be celebrating a year of taking it more seriously and a nomination for an award! When I started writing Steward’s notes in 2017 I was just starting a Masters of Sustainability Studies at Trent University, part of my job as a student was to reflect on our regular colloquium events on Trent’s internal communications tool “Blackboard”. These reflections were meant to be presented in a blog format visible to other students in our program. Unfortunately people who are not students of the program were not able to access the reflections of some of the brilliant minds in my program. In an effort to tie my studies closer to the community I started writing my own blog on Sustainability and Environmentalism in Peterborough. (Initially I included some other content, but that has since migrated to another site) I believe the interest in this blog reflects a real desire in the Peterborough community to hear real grounded stories on environmental issues, where people can and are making a real difference in our city. I also believe that this has been an excellent opportunity to share the diversity of life and nature in our own back yards.

Working with some Fleming Students to complete a baseline documentation of environmental conditions in Harper Park.

For myself this blog has been an opportunity for catharsis, when the issues of the day frustrate me, I like to write about how I might act to solve them. The name Steward’s Notes comes from my desire to take real concrete action to care for the land we live on and to do the best that we can when we can. I have a fondness for the term stewardship, it conjures a picture of one’s labour being reflected in the places and people they care about. I believe that others appreciate the work that I have done and have used it for inspiration to take their own actions.

Reflecting on the stories that I have written over the past year, I see that the most popular stories are ones that share the hidden beauty of our home, or those that promote real action that people can take (And one April fools joke). I think that in a period of political disenfranchisement, being shown a way forward is an act of empowerment that people can latch onto. In a recent interview someone described to me how for their organization, moving forward was the only option and that banging heads against a wall is a pointless exercise. In a land where we enjoy the privilege of freedoms that we have, it is possible to take advantage of a world of opportunities for caring and stewardship before we need to start pushing boundaries (Not that we shouldn’t push boundaries). I was recently reminded of this by a good friend, and it goes to show that sometimes being forced to refocus can have incredible effects. I like to think that in my own little way, Steward’s Notes is an outside beacon encouraging people to refocus when they get lost in the details of environmentalism, sustainability and stewardship.

One of my favorite images of our beautiful landscape, taken within the city limits of Peterborough. Beauty and nature is in our back yard.

As a final note, I’ll say that I’ve discovered that the three (or four) pillar approach to sustainability makes for good and engaging content in addition to being much more holistic way of viewing the world. Much of the most popular content I’ve written in the past year has been when I have made a conscious effort to consider an issue from all environmental, economic and social perspectives (I’m still not entirely sure how to separate culture from social in the four-pillar approach). Logically this makes sense, since you could expect that readership would have some vested interest in viewing any particular issue from their pillar of expertise. Mostly I view the world through an environmental lens, but it is a useful tool to remind me to leave my comfort zone and consider other ways of thinking and being.

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An additional fun little tidbit I’ll share is that according to my internal analytics, the large majority of my readership has a love of dogs. Not sure what this says about the blog, but as a bit of a dog person myself, I’ll take it.

Change Comes To Steward’s Notes

With the coming spring and increased readership of Steward’s Notes I have decided to introduce some exciting changes! Some of you may have received an email late last night that read like a cryptic field note, and for that I would like to apologize! I am adding a section to this site where I will be publishing my regular field notes. To keep email spam to a minimum, subscribers will not receive an email in the future when field notes are published, only for the more substantial content published here. If you are interested you can find a link at the top of the page.

Additionally, I have recently removed all of the content from this site around some of my other projects such as the 3D printers, DIY cell phone etc. You can find all of that at my sister site This change is to keep the content of this site focused on my passion for Peterborough and the outdoors. It always seemed rather clunky to me to have a site dedicated to nature and making even if I did try and create some overlap. I found as time went on that blog subscribers would drop out when content they were not interested in was published. I have therefore decided to entirely focus this site on Peterborough’s natural heritage and natural history.

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Thank you to the Peterborough Community! The support I receive for this little blog is nothing short of incredible. I look forward to sharing and hearing stories of the land we love in the coming years!

Stewards Notes Talks Natural Heritage on Pints and Politics

While you’re in for the weekend relaxing before the holidays begin in earnest, why not check out this weeks episode of Pints and Politics. Bill Templeman, Ben Wolfe, Ian Attridge, and myself all sat down to discuss our city’s important natural heritage and how we might plan for a more ecological future. Check out the podcast from the link below and let us know what you think!

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Despite Lack of Provincial Leadership Dianne Saxe Offers a Vision for Way Forward

Its difficult to envy the position that Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe finds herself in every day. Her role as an independent commissioner of the legislature is to oversee Ontario’s ministries through an environmental lens and to administer the Environmental Bill of Rights. Throughout her tenure as the ECO she has issued dozens of reports critical of government activities and responses to pollution, environmental degradation, and planning. Just last week she released the annual ECO report detailing worrying trends in Ontario regarding wetlands, woodlands, water and wildlife. The report seems to have fallen on deaf ears at the legislature. Even worse, funding for the ECO office was cut nearly immediately following the release of the report.

It was a coincidence that that very day here in Peterborough we were fortunate enough to be joined by Dianne Saxe to discuss the protected areas shortfall that the province is facing in meeting our Aichi target 11 goals to protect 17% of Canada’s landmass for conservation y 2020. Currently Ontario sits at 10.4% protected area which is less than the global average of 14.5%. The response from Doug Ford and the CPC cacus has been that it was an agreement signed federally (by Stephen Harper), so it isn’t his problem.

Peterborough citizens making a difference!

Near the beginning of her presentation, Dianne offered examples of how leadership from cities, towns and other low tier governments is creating real change in the absence of higher leadership on environmental issues. South of the border, the “We Are Still In” coalition is on track to meet their Paris climate targets representing a constituency of over half of American Citizens an an economy of 6.2 trillion USD.

Now that the City of Peterborough has elected a council that may take environmental issues seriously, it may be time to discuss how our city may reach out to others to meet climate, water or protected area targets in the absence of provincial leadership. Perhaps our council and the engaged and eager citizens of our city can step forward as a leader in Ontario to create a vision for the future of not just our city, but the province as a whole. Organizations such as the Kawartha Land Trust, GreenUP, and The Nature Conservancy have all demonstrated the real change that can happen from the ground up when we decide to work together, lets hope that we can find an ally in our new city council.

Dianne Saxe may have a difficult road ahead as the environmental commissioner, and it may be difficult to be the harbinger of bad news but my respect for her comes from her ability to offer real solutions to the large problems that we face. I’ve trusted her advice since she took office and regardless of what happens, she will continue to be an invaluable asset for the people of Ontario.

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The Environment, Jackson Park, Springtime, and Elections

With the upcoming provincial election possibly having a dramatic impact on the jewel in our city that is Jackson Park, I decided to take a stroll along the creek to explore the lush green valley that has recently sprung to life. The polls seem to suggest that the Progressive Conservatives will be the ones to lead the province for the next 4 years. Thus far they have not indicated in any capacity that the Natural Environment is of concern or a priority. Tomorrow, make the effort to go to the polls and cast your ballot with the future of Ontario and Peterborough’s natural environment in your mind and in your hearts. In the meantime, enjoy the eye candy that is Jackson Park in the spring!