Scotland’s nature agency is to embark on a £1.25m artificial intelligence project to better connect people to beauty spots.

NatureScot hopes the ground-breaking tech project will help improve the management of Scotland’s protected areas and access to information about them.

The project, funded through the UK-wide GovTech Catalyst Challenge, is exploring how new and emerging technology can improve access to information about our most valuable nature sites.

From a field of 24 tech companies that entered the challenge, two finalists – Informed Solutions and Astrosat/Intelligent Reality – have now been selected to develop the final product.   

The aim is for a new online service that will combine previously under-used data on planning and protected areas with a range of new technologies, including artificial intelligence and remote sensing, to provide immediate, clear information to land managers, developers and the public.

The project is being supported by the Scottish Government’s CivTech team and Scottish Enterprise. It is hoped that the final product can be adapted for wider use in Scotland, the UK and worldwide to improve access to land use information and advice.

Brian Eardley, NatureScot’s protected areas manager, said: “Scotland’s protected areas safeguard our most special places for nature and provide many benefits to individuals, communities and society as a whole.

“It’s vital that any proposals for change on protected areas don’t compromise, and indeed preferably enhance, these sites. However one of the biggest problems land managers, developers or interested members of the public often encounter is getting hold of the relevant information they need and getting it quickly.

“This project aims to revolutionise that process with a platform that can predict potential impacts on protected areas and provide immediate tailored information and advice for any specific site.

“It has the potential to benefit a wide range of users from the developer unsure of whether to progress a proposal to members of the public interested in their local protected area. We look forward to working with our finalists over the next phase to make this vision a reality.”