Ashdown Forest and "Drones"

Now, some might accuse me of droning on (sorry) but yes, I'm opinionated. I also fly light aircraft for fun, and also own a couple of SUAs or, as they tend to be known "drones" and fly legally and considerately.

One thing that annoys me is people who band phrases like "because it's illegal" about (usually relating to Health and Safety) when it, invariably, isn't and self-important organisations that try to use "bye-laws" to limit the power of things they can't. Increasingly the legitimate use of SUAs is one of these.

This was posted today by Ashdown Forest Centre on Facebook

“A quick reminder to our Forest users that the use of ‘drones’ on Ashdown Forest is strictly prohibited. Drones must not be operated on Ashdown Forest or within 50 metres of Ashdown Forest. Use of Unmanned Aircraft and Aircraft Systems is governed by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Concerns have been raised over the dangers of startling the public, horses (and riders), wild animals and Commoners’ livestock.”

To which I asked;

Hi, can you confirm under what legislation or bye-law you are prohibiting overflight by SUAs?

Seemed a reasonable question? and it did elicit a sensible response at first;

Bye-law 14: No person shall except in the case of accident or unavoidable cause land or any part of the Forest to take off therefrom in any aircraft, glider, balloon, or hovercraft, nor shall any person so land by parachute, nor shall the Forest be used for the flying of model aircraft in any form whatsoever without the licensed consent of the Conservators.

Ok, except, ignoring how badly written it is for a second, that's not what their website says Bye-law 14 is. Also, this (a) provides no restriction on overflight and (b) no restriction "within 50m" as they claim in the original post.

There's a few reasons for this largely because they cannot prevent overflight with a bye-law any more than they could stop BA flying planes overhead, they do not own the airspace

I suggested that "Instead of misappropriating bye-laws written and intended for other purposes to try and restrict people in ways that make you look foolish, why not engage in a discussion with those who simply want to enjoy your park in a different way, through aerial photography?"

The rebuttal for this was;

Anyone operating such a drone for recreational use is required to follow guidelines published by the Civil Aviation Authority. These state that the drone must not endanger anyone or anything; must be kept within sight of the operator; and must not be flown above 400 feet, in congested areas or within 50 metres of a person, vehicle or building. The Forest is owned by the Ashdown Forest Trust and has open access, so there are staff working on site, around 4000 visitors per day, school children, horse riders and farmers present, so unauthorised drone flying is both illegal and potentially puts people at risk.

The Forest also has agricultural animals and heavily protected wildlife, animals which are sensitive to disturbance, such as birds and deer herds, which could be alarmed or stressed by the presence of drones, especially at breeding times.

Most of what's said here is accurate however, the 50m rule is not horizontal distance, but should be thought of "as a bubble" so 50m over an individual, vehicle, or building is lawful per the ANO according to the CAA. In any event, no-one is talking about flying directly over people.

There's been a lot of study into wildlife reaction to overflight, and a responsible pilot (of any aircraft) will never seek to disturb them, however I would suggest that a SUA at a height of 300-400' will be considerably less likely to disturb, or even be detected by, most wildlife than a light fixed-wing aircraft at 1500'.

Living in a similar conservation area myself, with wild deer and other animals on my own land, I have not seen any response to an SUA at 300' - a fixed wing PA28 similarly doesn't have much effect on deer above 2000'

This seems very much like "we don't understand this, so we'll try and quote legislation that we don't understand to have our way" - I implore organisations like this to actually enter into a discussion about it, rather than appear heavy-handed.

There are, without question, places on the forest site (which I have visited in the past) where flight by SUAs would be inappropriate, but likewise there are vast acres where such activities are harmless and actually promote their forest and their work when shared e.g. by social media.

What was the rational response to my comments? and others in support of those safely flying recreational "drones"?

Deletion of course, by some self-aggrandised muppets who don’t understand something trying to regulate something they don’t understand using rules that they don’t understand.

But it's easy to pretend you have widespread support for something when you delete anyone who disagrees with you, isn't it?

So, let's enjoy this fabulous video by Visual Air which shows Ashdown Forest beautifully, but these pen-pushers would have you believe is "illegal" and would rather had not been made I guess

« Back to home