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Aerial Recreation

Drone Safety Map Solent
Restricted Airspace. © Drone Safety Map
© Drone Safety Map

This activity category includes all types of craft used for recreation in the air e.g. small planes and helicopters, microlights, paramotors, hang gliding, parascending (on beach), parasailing (by boat), drones (UAVs), and model aircraft.

Potential impacts on European Marine Sites include:

The risk of this pressure will increase depending on the spatial/ temporal scale and intensity of the activity, the proximity of the activity to the feature (in space and time) and the sensitivity of the feature to the pressure. Cumulative and in-combination effects of activities may increase the risk further. Factors such as height, speed and size of aircraft would need to be taken into consideration.

Impacts on Solent Sites

Bird Aware Solent Rangers gather ad hoc information on winter drone sightings as part of their usual survey duties. In 2021, the Natural Environment Group evaluated whether summer drone use was an issue impacting on designated sites in the Solent and concluded that this isn’t currently the case. Bird Aware carry out observations on drone use in the winter as part of their exisiting monitoring programmes and feed any concerns to the Natural Environment Group each year. Currently there are no concerns.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more popularly known as drones, are increasingly being used by people for recreational purposes and they are also employed to monitor and protect wildlife.  Studies have shown that UAVs can be more efficient than traditional approaches to wildlife monitoring and can provide more precise observational data. Accordingly, there has been a considerable increase in the use of UAVs for research purposes.

Hampshire County Council’s Countryside Service has asked that unmanned aircraft (drones) are not operated from its land holdings. This follows guidance issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to help drone pilots fly safely and responsibly by following the drone code. The Countryside Service is considering how drone operators could be compliant with the drone code whilst on its land holdings in the future.

Regulations and Drones

As a public body, the CAA is a Section 28G authority under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) as amended. The CAA's primary remit is air safety (including the safe use of Drones), however, Subsection 2 of Section 28G states that a 28G authority "must take reasonable steps, consistent with the proper exercise of the authority’s functions, to further the conservation and enhancement of the flora, fauna or geological or physiographical features by reason of which the site is of special scientific interest". The CAA advise that “Where a flight may take place over a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), you should seek further guidance from Natural England”.

Those who wish to operate drones must adhere to various safety, legal, regulatory, and insurance requirements. You must register before flying most drones or model aircraft outdoors in the UK. Depending on where the flight takes place, drone flyers and operators may require the approval of the CAA, local air traffic control and port or harbour authorities. The UK's drone rules changed on 31 December 2020. Most users will now fly in the new Open Category. A series of factsheets is available on the Civil Aviation website.

In simple terms the regulations for small unmanned aircraft state that:

All UK land, including the coast, has an owner. Unlike the public rights of fishing and navigation and the Crown Estate's general permissive consent for public access along the foreshore, other activities, including the flying of UAD's, requires the landowner's permission.  Government agencies and Local authorities have the power to ban the flying of drones and other activities through the use of byelaws, and drone pilots should therefore check with the appropriate authority to ensure that no such ban is in place.  Pilots need permission from Natural England to fly over protected sites.

Altitude Angel are the biggest provider of drone mapping and integration in Europe and they have now included all SSSI layers on their map. These are classified as a ‘ground hazard’ on this map.