The Palm Grove in the city of Elche, southeastern Spain, is the largest palm grove in Europe and one of the biggest in the world.
Its over 200,000 date palms were granted Unesco World Heritage status in 2000, but are under threat from a tiny beetle, which has so far ravaged over 100,000 palms across Spain.
The larvae of the dreaded red palm weevil can burrow up to a metre into the trunks of the palms, weakening the trees until they eventually die.
But experts in Spain have come up with an ingenious idea to protect the palms using the latest drone technology.
Scientists have been using drones to inject the palm trees with a special fungus that acts as a vaccine.
“The palm reacts and activates its defences. It’s just like a vaccine. Its immune system becomes alert and stops the weevil from spreading,” agricultural engineer Rafael López, one of the 11 scientists working for Glen Biotech, a lab sponsored by the University of Alicante, told El Mundo.
Scientists have been testing the method in Spain’s second biggest palm grove, the Palmeral de Abanilla and are excited at its success.
“Without the drone it would have been impossible to carry the fungus to a height of 12 metres or more, especially on windy days,” López explained.
The drone weighs five kilograms and can vaccinate 140 palms a day.
Scientists tested 10 types of fungus and found that the most successful at protecting the palm tree was Beauveria bassiana.
“This is a biological fight against the plague without using insecticides or other chemicals, making sure that the surrounding areas stay free of substances that could harm the other flora,” said López.
Drone technology is also being used in Spain to protect its endangered fauna with patrols keeping a watchful eye on the lynx population.