Drones for Christmas, flying in country parks and dogs running off with landing pads

Drone flying is great, I’ve had some amazing times piloting my unmanned aircraft, not only because I find flying therapeutic, but the aerial photography that one can capture at several hundred feet is astonishing. You also meet some characters such as dogs running off with your landing mat thinking it is a giant frisbee, and confident parakeets to name a few. 

In November 2019, the UK released further rules regarding drone flying. This stemmed from the popularity of unmanned aircrafts, and the speculation regarding incidents that had supposedly occurred at Gatwick and Heathrow airports due to drones, not to mention the common questions surrounding privacy.  

If you have recently become an owner of a drone it is your responsibility to know the rules around flying.  

Drones above 250g need to be registered, which includes an online test, and of course a fee which transforms into operator and flyer IDs. The operator ID needs to be displayed on the drone, and details available upon request from a person in authority.  

As a responsible pilot you need to know the drone code which nicely summarises the dos and don’ts of drone flying. However, last month I saw several examples of people flying too low over crowds, or in places that were no-fly zones, and actions like this, no matter how innocent affect us all.   

There are numerous apps, such as Drone Assist, UAV Forecast and if you have a DJI aircraft or a Parrot drone, they have their own apps too.  

While there is a controversy between drone pilots about the registration, its fee and the test, I took little issue with them. I don’t like adding registration numbers to my drone, I seem to be collecting them the more I travel, but registering my drone means I have nothing to hide. It means I am happy to declare I am a drone pilot and if I accidentally break the rules, then I will take responsibility for that.  

Before the registration rules changed last year, the husband and I were two of many submitting evidence to the science and technology committee at the house of commons, in a bid to emphasize the good points of drone flying, and responsible piloting. I believe that the evidence submitted encouraged the reduction of the registration fee, however many were against registering and paying for it in general.  

This is understandable if you have a fleet of drones. We have a small fleet of six drones, however, only two are over the 250g weight limit for registration. It does not necessarily mean someone is choosing to act sinister if they do not register their drone. It can mean that they don’t agree with having to register their aircrafts, when they have been flying for years without needing to pay a fee. However, the repercussion of not registering could be a fine of £1,000 

When registering your aircraft, make sure you know the weight of the drone with prop guards if you choose to use them. iKopta Dylan on YouTube gives an informative summary on DJI’s Mavic Mini, and how the weight of the aircraft is above 250g with prop guards. The Mini was released with the lead up to the news rules coming into force. 

The alleged incidents at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which were never proven to be drone related, but likely played a part in the registration. Then climate change activists Extinction Rebellion tried to set drones off to halt incoming and outgoing flights at the major London airports with little regard as to the consequences of their actions, and how it would affect others, not matter how noble their intentions may have been. Luckily, after reviewing the footage, it appears that they had some configuration issues. This is another point to note, if you cannot correctly configure a drone, you should not be flying one until you have received further training.   

In the last year I have seen an increase in country park and public greenspace websites prohibiting drone flying.  

Nature reserves are a given, but general country parks are stating that the restriction is because of the disturbance to wildlife – yet they allow dogs to roam free.   

Surely a dog jumping on a few geese, which I have seen recently, and filmed it on one occasion when I was filming a vlog episode, constitutes a worse disturbance than my drone which is being flown at a safe distance from objects, animals and people? 

My husband and I have flown at many large parks, or green open spaces, and our drones have not disrupted the wildlife. Keep in mind that a seagull could take down a drone let alone a goose or a heron, and our main investment drones are DJI Mavic Air, and the DJI Mavic Pro.  

Obviously, the last thing we want is to injure any animal, and that is what responsible piloting seeks to avoid. In my experience the bigger problem has always been parakeets, they are very curious and approachable creatures who appear to be outnumbering the other species of birds nowadays. There has been more than one occasion where a flock of parakeets, or a solo pigeon has circled my drone in mid-flight. A tip if this happens to you, either land or ascend higher than the birds, as they will then see the drone as a predator and leave it alone.  

Dogs have also provided me with humorous challenges. On one occasion a dog got so excited at the sight of my landing mat he picked it up and ran off with it thinking it was a giant Frisbee, followed closely by his frantic owner running after him trying to get it back.

Sketch by K J Foxhall-Ridgeway

On another occasion, I had landed my drone and was packing up and this gorgeous big fluffy white dog, similar to a husky or Chow but not quite, came up to me and naturally I said “hello” to it because I’m a soppy person when it comes to animals. I was crouching down at the time putting things back into my drone bag, and it came and sat next to me and leant on me to the point I couldn’t move. It was so funny. Of course, at that point I was also looking around to see if mum and dad were about, and they were across the other side of the field. I felt like one of those wildlife photographers where the seal climbs on top of them when they’re trying to take a photo.  

I don’t think dogs find drones or anything like that a problem, nor have I found a massive problem with wildlife in general. I think that perhaps this stigma about “disturbance” has stemmed from a few people seeing drones in flight, while they have been walking and they have been compelled to report it to the council, or air their perhaps unwarranted feelings because they feel they should. The overall question is, why report something that is not affecting anyone’s day to day life or creating a disturbance. If it is out of risk, because something could happen then why not report all motorists for accidents that haven’t happened yet.  

For pilots it seems that the scope of safe-fly zones is becoming limited. The radius around airports have increased in recent years, and more signs are going up. However, the signs often not only point to drones, but also model aircrafts, so there has been more controversy between drone pilots and those that fly model aircrafts.  

As a drone pilot, I know that a certain amount of PR has to be carried out when flying. People will either want to find out more, or they will find a way to criticise it, and unfortunately negativity seems to be the common default nowadays – you just have to spend 30 seconds on social media to find that out.  

In summary if you want to fly a drone, know the rules, be safe and the fun will come naturally. Also, if you are playing by the rules, then no one will have a substantive cause to complain.

For the audio version of this post, please visit the SOCLIPod casts.

Sketch by K J Foxhall-Ridgeway

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