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Astrosat's 'CCTV in the sky' could help Guatemalan farmers fight back against illegal loggers

The blight of illegal timber removal from fragile rainforests could be alleviated by a "CCTV in the sky" being developed by Scottish-based, internationally-operating space services and management company Astrosat.

The Edinburgh-based company, which specialises in innovative space technology, is working on a UK Space Agency project to stop deforestation of vast tracts of land in Guatemala in Central America, particularly where the country borders Mexico.

Forests, of which nearly 40% are primary forests, cover one third of Guatemala’s land area. The annual rate of deforestation was 1% for the period 2010-15 and illegal logging is a widespread problem in the country.

Astrosat specialises in earth observation, using earth-viewing instruments, and it has teamed up with UK and US-based company Earth Observation Ltd to monitor forests and detect illegal activity. This will allow law enforcement agencies to take action against offenders.

Steve Lee, Astrosat CEO and founder, said: "What we are working on here is could be described as a CCTV system which operates from space. With the data and information we can garner, we can help countries and communities which are at the mercy of unscrupulous operators.

"This, in effect, brings space - and space companies and organisations - into the Fair Trade arena, by helping local farmers and villagers to manage sustainable timber reserves. Illegal logging not only undercuts markets, but has a devastating effect on vital ecosystems."

Astrosat's technology will help the Guatemalan government agencies to monitor large forested areas such as the rich and diverse Reserva de Biosfera Maya and a series of important national parks along the border.

Working with Earth Observation, it will monitor areas of jurisdiction and particular types of trees to ensure that only permitted timber felling is allowed, creating a legal market for sustainably-managed forestry products.

In the worst cases, such as clear-cutting, illegal logging destroys entire areas of forest habitat, with the consequent loss of important species, damage to the ecosystem and loss of fresh water sources on which local communities rely.

Steve Lee said: "Data and information from space sources is increasingly important in allowing countries which do not have significant satellite resources to implement action programmes on issues such as this which directly affect the lives of their citizens."

Multi-award winning Astrosat employs 24 people and has a growing turnover in excess of £1.6 million.