North West Wales

Conwy study: Could sheep lead smart countryside?

Sheep Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Could smart technology help animal welfare?

Sheep wearing digital collars and sensors along the riverbank could be a common sight in rural Wales, if smart technology takes hold.

That is the potential according to researchers, who will spend 18 months seeing how "The Internet of Things" could work in the countryside of Conwy.

Issues from flooding and agricultural pollution to animal movements could be tackled.

Lancaster University are leading the study which involves Bangor University.

The so-called Internet of Things connects every day objects over the wireless internet and using smart technology.

'Catastrophic events'

Fitting sheep with digital collars for example could help track movements and monitor their health.

Computer scientist Professor Gordon Blair of Lancaster University says the countryside brings challenges because of the terrain but he believes the benefits could be huge.

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Media captionFarmer Gareth Wyn Jones embraces new technology - including his sheepdog showing how it's done on YouTube

"Cities have been the focus of much of the boom in this type of technology," said Prof Blair.

"It has been used to keep traffic flowing on our roads, monitor air pollution and even help us find a parking spot on a busy Saturday afternoon.

"But the countryside faces challenges of its own, from subtle environmental changes to catastrophic events such as flooding. The possibilities of bringing the Internet of Things to the countryside are limitless.

"The next step will be to identify exactly what will be of most use in the short term."

Sheep farmer Gareth Wyn Jones, from Llanfairfechan in Conwy - star of the BBC series The Hill Farm - said: "Under EU regulations we already have to electronically chip sheep so the technology is already there in one respect.

"We have 3,500 sheep so whether a digital collar for all of them would be feasible is another matter but if someone said to me 10 years ago I would be tweeting to 7,000 followers from the top of a mountain or putting videos onto YouTube, I would never have believed you.

"We are on a journey over the next 10 to 15 years and the contribution technology can make to agriculture is immense."

Prof Blair has won £171,495 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council towards the work, which also involves the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the British Geological Survey.

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