Surveying weeds, feral animals, native species and other flora and fauna across large areas of land that are not accessible by foot can be challenging, unless you're a licensed drone pilot like Senior Ecologist on our Defence Base Services (DBS) contract, Katie Selhorst.

Joining the contract in 2020, Katie says she had previously used outsourced drone providers to undertake ecological surveys. Now that she is licensed through our inhouse Drone solutions team, Katie has begun planning the flights she wants to do.

Katie moved to Australia from the United States in 2010 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology with plans to undertake her Master of Conservation Biology at UNSW in Sydney. She started her ecology career working in Central Queensland, then South East Queensland and finally in Melbourne.

'From an ecological standpoint, Australia is the world's most amazing biosphere,' Katie says.

"One of the things I love is that the evolution of the flora and fauna is both unique and beautiful." 

Her experience working on Defence sites while in Queensland came in handy when she joined the DBS team in Victoria.

DBS site
Pictured: Defence Base Services (DBS) project site

Minimising disruptions to native animal populations

Katie says one of the benefits of using drones in the surveying is the lack of disruption to native animal populations.

"You can cause stress to the animals while conducting various survey methodologies. These ground surveys unintentionally cause the animals to move while walking the transects as you're on their turf," Katie explains.

"With drones, we can use thermal imaging, which doesn't bother the animals in this instance, removing that stress factor but also meaning we get a more accurate picture of the species density and locations on base."

Example of drone technology showing Kangaroo pictured
Pictured: Example of drone technology showing a kangaroo, captured by Katie Selhorst

Leveraging drone technologies

Katie is exploring other opportunities for drone use at sites, including other native fauna surveys, biomass surveys to assess the volume of edible foods for the kangaroos, roof inspections for bushfire risk reduction, exotic species or weed density surveys, and erosion surveys following large storm events.

"Erosion surveys are often done in areas we can't safely access for various reasons," Katie says.

The more we can use technology to reduce risk and improve safety for our people, as well as minimising our interaction with the fauna and flora we want to protect, the better.

Katie says learning to fly drones and gaining her remote pilots license was something she'd wanted to do for a while, and she really enjoyed the training.

"I've started mapping out all the flights I'd like to do and preparing all the paperwork. It'll be great to get out there and bring this technology into the business to demonstrate our enhanced capabilities to integrated land management.'

Katie Selhort pictured in a Kangaroo paddock
Pictured: Katie Selhorst in the field