Drone activity over Britain’s most beautiful stately homes, castles, monuments and landscapes has prompted English Heritage to ban the unapproved use of unmanned aerial vehicles over all of its sites.
The ban comes after English Heritage recorded about 250 unauthorised drone flights over its sites during the last three years. English Heritage says these unauthorised flights threaten sensitive sites of national and historic importance such as Stonehenge as well as visitors to these sites. Osterley and Cliveden, which are both located under Heathrow Airport’s airspace are considered especially sensitive. Owners, staff or tenants in residence at English Heritage properties are also said to be at risk from drone activity. The National Trust has a similar blanket ban on unapproved flights over its properties.
In defending their bans, English Heritage and the National Trust refer to the Civil Aviation Authority rules, which prohibit drone flights within 50 metres of any structure or person or within 30 metres of any person other than the drone pilot during take-off and landing. Both bodies also cite data protection laws according to which aerial photographs could amount to a breach of privacy. English Heritage Security Adviser, Jon Livesey, said English Heritage “want to get the message out that unauthorised use carries considerable risks to visitors, to staff and to the very buildings that the hobbyist pilots are seeking to celebrate”.
The ban has come as a blow to a new generation of amateur photographers and drone pilots. For these enthusiasts, the invention of the drone has offered a new means to capture stunning bird’s-eye imagery of Britain’s majestic landscapes and greatest national monuments. One such enthusiast, City business analyst, Ian Wells, complained that the ban punishes all responsible drone pilots for the inappropriate actions of a few. “We don’t ban cars because of a few idiots who break the speed limits and equally the tiny minority who fly drones inappropriately should not ruin the fun for the majority”, Wells said.
Drone pilots argue that English Heritage do not own the airspace above their properties. They also add that using drones to film historic sites does not breach each aviation rules as long as pilots wait until the sites close, visitors leave, drones take off from public footpaths and pilots keep to the 50 metre rule. A National Trust spokesman countered that few non-commercial pilots are equipped with the correct training, permission from the Civil Aviation Authority or insurance to compensate those harmed by drone damage.
This is not the first time controversial drone flights have appeared in the headlines. On 19 December, drone sightings on a runway at Gatwick Airport grounded all flights until 21 December. The 33 hour drone fiasco disrupted 140,000 passenger journeys and caused about 1,000 flight delays or cancellations. The culprit remains at large although recent reports suggest it may have been an inside job. The incident also led to the creation of legislation giving police extra powers to combat illegal drone activity.