Drones and nesting birds in the Lake District

One consideration for flying of drones in the Lake District or on the Cumbria coast is the natural wildlife – specifically nesting birds. All wild birds are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and it is a criminal offence to harm or disturb them during the nesting period. Nesting birds view drones as a threat, as they believe these to be predatory birds of prey.

The ‘Bird Nesting Season’ is officially from February until August (according to Natural England). However, in reality the nesting period may start before this and extend beyond it, in some cases. The busiest time for nesting birds is from 1st March until 31st July and of course varies according to species, etc. Drone operators are advised to seek specialist advice.

The penalties for disturbing wild birds with drones are quite severe, fines of up to £5,000 and up to six months in prison. In July 2018, a Keswick man was fined £2,000 for disturbing the nesting Ospreys near Bassenthwaite Lake by running illegal tourist coach trips to view the Osprey’s. While this was not drone related, the principle remains the same and with the current media reporting of illegal drone use, any disturbance of birds by drone in the Lake District will no doubt be met with frenzied media reporting. No doubt the authorities will also seek to send out a message that disturbing birds and wild life in the Lake District by drone is unacceptable and impose very stiff penalties on cowboy drone operators.

Before Hovershotz conduct any aerial photography or drone filming in the Lake District or North West coast, we conduct very strict and thorough pre flight surveys and checks, which involve making sure any of our activities do not fall foul (we could used a bad joke and have said fowl) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. This is in addition to tour usual checks which involve making sure all flights can be made safely and legally, such as checking withe the RAF or Ministry of Defence for any military aircraft activity in the Lake District.

It is also possible to apply for a licence to fly and operate drones during nesting season if the activity is necessary https://www.gov.uk/guidance/wild-birds-protection-surveys-and-licences

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.

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