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Drones: Taking Farming to New Heights?

Drones: Taking Farming to New Heights?

The recent explosion in the popularity of drones has not escaped the agricultural world, with many farmers recognising the benefits that this technology can bring.

Surveillance of crops, land and boundaries can be carried out quickly and efficiently and data collected by drones can be used to inform farmer’s decisions in crop management. Some drones can be used to precision-drop fertiliser or even ladybirds where they are most needed! 

The use of drones is, however, regulated and certain rules must be followed to ensure that you stay within the law.

Drones must not be flown near aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields. There is concern that the number of drone near misses with aircraft has increased, leading to the UK Government publishing its’ consultation on the safe use of drones in December 2016. The Government’s vision for the use of drones is to strike a balance between personal enjoyment and protecting the safety, security and privacy of others.

As a result of this consultation:

  • You are not permitted to fly your drone further than 500 metres away from you horizontally or 400 feet above you. To give an idea of scale, the London Eye is 443 feet high (the Wallace Monument is only 220 feet high).
  • The drone must not weigh more than 20kg. You must make sure you can see it at all times, to ensure you are flying it safely and legally.
  • You should not fly a drone fitted with a camera within 50 metres in any direction of any person, vehicle, building or structure. This would include properties adjacent to the farm unless consent has been obtained. Recording images of other people without their consent can breach the Data Protection Act so any farmer using a drone should be aware of any public paths or roads in the vicinity of the farmland. This helps protect the privacy and personal freedom of the public.
  • Flying within 150 metres of congested areas or large gatherings such as sports events or concerts is not permitted.

There is a clear difference between civilian and commercial use of a drone. If you are receiving payment of any sort (for example, if a neighbouring farmer offered to pay you to survey their land with your drone) then you are taken to be using the drone for commercial purposes and you must seek permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). They will ask you to show that you are “sufficiently competent” which includes demonstrating that you have sufficient knowledge of aviation theory (good flying practice and aviation law), passing a practical flight test and setting out the type of flights you want to do in an Operations Manual. This should not be difficult for serious enthusiasts and there are assessment organisations that can assist you in meeting the CAA requirements.

Before you take your new drone out for its first flight, you should also consider taking out insurance to cover you in the event that the drone causes damage or injury or records footage of a person who then claims damages as an infringement of their privacy. Your existing farm policy may provide sufficient cover if you use the drone on your own property. It is likely that separate cover would have to be sought if you hire out your services to other farmers and landowners. Specific ‘drone policies’ are now available.

Nicola McKnight is a Trainee Solicitor in our specialist Land & Rural Business team. If you would like further information on the use of drones in agriculture please contact Nicola McKnight or Christopher Lindley on 01738 621212 or alternatively contact a member of our Land & Rural Business team.

Posted by Christopher Lindley


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