Can you shoot down a drone over your property in the UK?

Is it legal to shoot down a drone hovering or flying over your property or land in the UK? The short answer is no, for several reasons.

Can you shoot down a drone is a question asked by those who fear drone technology and want to protect their privacy. Many people believe drones are used for ‘snooping’ and to peep through bedroom or bathroom windows.  There is however a drone code and if drone operators follow that code then homeowners and landowners have nothing to fear fear from drones. That said, there are idiots out there who fly their drones irresponsibly and without regard for the general public (such as what has happened at Gatwick Airport in December 2018), so could you shoot the drone down if it is flying over your land?

Firstly, in the UK the authorities take a very dim view of people discharging firearms in built up areas, and you would be prosecuted for any damage or injury your bullet caused. It is also illegal to shoot down any aircraft (that includes drones) in the UK (unless you are the UK military or Police that is). So if you were to shoot down a drone over your land you would be breaking the law. If after shooting down a drone it subsequently crashed and injured someone or damaged property then you could be potentially liable. What if your shot missed the drone and hit and killed a person, then you would be prosecuted for murder. Also, if the drone was not been flown dangerously and you shot it down then you could also be prosecuted for criminal damage. 

The rules in the UK that govern drone flights are administered by the Civil aviation authority (CAA) and in regard to flying drones over property then it is totally legal as long as the following conditions are met:

  • The drone operator has the permission of the landowner of the take off and landing location (regardless of if it then flies over private property).
  • The drone is at least 50 metres away from private property or people (unless over congested areas or a gathering of more than 1,000 people, in which case the drone needs to be 150 metres away.
  • The drone does not exceed an altitude of 120 metres .
  • The drone is not being flown dangerously or recklessly.

It may be possible to take legal action for trespass if the drone is flying low over your property but this falls under civil law and has never been tested in court in the UK. All you can really do is phone 101 and report the activity to the Police or if it is your neighbour conducting the drone flights then speak to them and ask them to stop.

Why didn’t the Police shoot down the drone causing disruption at Gatwick Airport? In this case, I’m sure if the Police were able to spot the elusive drone then they would have indeed shot it down. Firearms officers were spotted with shotguns at Gatwick Airport, hunting the drone.

OK, if you can’t shoot down the drone, could you jam the signal somehow? Drones generally transmit on the 2.4 ghz frequency and jammers are available to jam those signals but these are illegal in the UK under section 68 of the wireless telegraphy act of 2006. The problem is the frequencies drones use is the same as WIFI, so if you block the drone signal then you would take out an areas wifi. However the UK government are currently looking into the use of jammers and in the wake of the Gatwick incident we would expect a change in legislation in 2019.

Update in January 2019 – Following the Gatwick drone incident, the UK Government have increased the no fly zones for drones at airports from 1KM to 5KM. Also, airports such as Gatwick, Heathrow & Manchester are now allowed to use drone capture nets (a gun that fires a net to capture the drone).

A simple mnemonic to remember the UK drone code is:

Don’t fly near airports or airfields.

Remember to stay below 400ft (120m).

Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property.

Never fly near aircraft.

Enjoy responsibly.

Here is a spoof video of a landowner shooting down a drone (if it was real then he could have faced prosecution for breaking the law).

Can I shoot down a drone is something TV celebrity Richard Madeley asked himself a couple of years ago, but fortunately he dealt with matters in a different way. A drone flew over his garden in Cornwall, leading to a confrontation with the drone pilot. The police were later involved and this is the best course of action if you do feel a drone is being used to spy on you or causing a nuisance.

The way forward would be for a way of adding your property to a drones geofence (a map build into the drone of areas it will not fly in) or some form of drone shield or dome, such as the ones used by some UK prisons.

On a similar subject, certain landowners in the Lake District National Park (such as the National Trust) have banned all drone flights over their land and near their properties – is this legal and enforceable? No not really, UK air laws fall under the jurisdiction of the CAA and as long as the UK drone code is being followed then the landowner cannot prevent flights over their land or within 50 metres of their property. There are a couple of exceptions though in the case of the National Trust; they have some bye laws in place since the 1960’s which prevent commercial photography of their property or disturbing certain wildlife on their land, which could be applied to drone activity, but the fines are ridiculously low (about an old shilling), so it’s not really worth enforcing

Author Andy Wills

Andy has been flying and building remote control aircraft for over 30 years and is a licenced UK drone pilot. When not flying drones, Andy serves his local community, as an On Call Firefighter for Cumbria Fire & Rescue Service.

More posts by Andy Wills

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Steve says:

    What about if you shoot one down with a slingshot or bow and arrow, or a firework rocket. Accidents do happen. It would have to be proven in was intensional.

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