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Personal profile

Scholarly biography

Dr Niall Burnside is a Reader in Geoinformatics and Biogeography and the Subject Lead for the Environment Group in the School of Applied Sciences. He is a member of the Centre for Aquatic Environments, Centre for Earth Observation Science, and the lead researcher in the use of UAVs (AKA Drones) within physical and environmental geography (contact the University of Brighton UAV consultancy unit). 

Dr Burnside’s research primarily links the disciplines of Geoinformatics with Biogeography, Ecology and Environmental Management. He formerly worked in practical conservation management and now has over 25 years’ of consultancy and research experience in the application of GIS and Remote Sensing specialising in landscape ecology, biogeography and ecological studies. More recent research has a focus on small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) in landscape and ecological studies.

Dr Burnside has successfully supervised eleven PhD students, one MPhil student and is currently supervising a further six PhD students. He has authored over 50 scientific publications and presented his research to academics, professionals, government departments and the public internationally.

Dr Burnside has worked closely with a range of environmental organisations including: Natural England, Environment Agency, DEFRA, South Downs National Park, Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority, Earthwatch, Darwin Initiative, and British Council.

Approach to teaching

I particularly enjoy skill-based teaching and learning, as evidenced by my involvement in fieldwork modules, applications in GIS, spatial data analysis and geostatistics. I like to use some of my own published research and case studies to help students to see the practical, applied and novel aspects of these subject areas.

It is clear that students benefit from the practical and skills-based nature of the modules that I teach on, and it is rewarding to see them include these skills in dissertations and further study. I believe that the development of these advanced skills can help set our graduates apart from others in the geography and environmental field.

The rapidly developing geoinformatics field presents many opportunities for students to engage with state-of-the-art equipment, methods and techniques such as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS); differentially corrected GPS; mobile technologies and advanced geostatistical modelling. I believe this interaction, learning and knowledge will help prepare our graduates for future employment opportunities.

Supervisory Interests

I have supervised 12 students to completion of their Post Graduate Research Degrees and I am keen to supervise more students in the fields of Biogeography and Geoinformatics. More specifically, the use and implementation of small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (AKA UAVs, Drones, etc) for environmental monitoring, remote sensing and geographical information systems, landscape ecology, landscape change and conservation management.

Research interests

My research to date has centred on a range of biogeographical and landscape systems (unimproved grasslands, ancient woodlands, intertidal and marine ecology and some specific species groups). Common to these research activities is the use of GIS, Remote Sensing (e.g. sUAS) and geostatistics to find solutions to environmental problems and help direct policy.

I have been fortunate to interact and work with a range of professionals in the ecological and environmental field over the years from organisations such as: Natural England, Environment Agency, DEFRA, South Downs National Park, Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority.

I believe this involvement and interaction has helped to maintain my strong interest in and desire to identify solutions to the many ecological and environmental issues facings us today.

Current research projects:

•The use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in Detection of Crops and Structure of Agricultural Landscapes (Estonian University of Life Sciences)

•The integration of small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) & remote sensing for biodiversity assessment within the vineyard. (National Institute of Agricultural Botany, UK).

•Effective management of the invasive aquatic plant Australian Swamp Stonecrop (Crassula helmsii) in wetlands: The use of sUAS and multi-spectral remote sensing for monitoring. (Environment Agency)

•The use of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) and structure-from-motion (SfM) to understand the intertidal processes in managed realignment in England and Wales. (Environment Agency & Natural Resource Wales)

•Linking soils and human health: Geospatial analysis of podoconiosis occurrence and cause in Ethiopia and Cameroon (National Institute for Health Research)

Examples of previous research projects:

•A study of Feral Goat populations in the Natural area of Paratge Natural de la Serra de Tramuntana (PNST) using sUAS thermal imagery (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) 

The potential of small-Unmanned Aircraft Systems for nutritional stress assessment of mountain ungulates: Iberian Ibexes (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB))

The development of small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) for the detection of unimproved grassland systems. (High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

•LiDAR-based modelling and visualisation of managed retreat scenarios for coastal planning: an example from the southern UK. (Cuckmere Estuary)

•Marine Habitat Mapping using acoustic multibeam data - backscatter and bathymetry (Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority).

•GIS development work for State of the Park Report, (South Downs National Park Authority)

•Restoring biodiversity to coastal wetlands, Estonia (Earthwatch & Darwin Initiative)

•GIS habitat suitability modelling for BAP target habitats in the proposed South Downs National Park. (Natural England)

•Saline lagoon baseline and mapping survey, Sussex (Natural England)

Education/Academic qualification


Award Date: 1 Nov 2000


Award Date: 1 Jul 1997


  • G Geography (General)
  • GIS
  • Remote Sensing
  • sUAS and UAVs
  • Spatial Analysis
  • GE Environmental Sciences
  • Biogeography
  • Landscape Ecology
  • Conservation Management
  • Landscape Change


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