The field sport season is upon us once again and, after an interrupted 2020/21 season, many enthusiasts are keen to get back out into the countryside to participate in the activities that they enjoy.
However, last year’s Covid-enforced hiatus has given those who disagree with field sports, such as shooting and hunting, time to review their tactics and there are signs that they’re out in force. One particular change is the increased use of drones. These are now very affordable, are able to film in high definition with image stabilisation and high zoom functions. The flight time has also improved considerably.
The flying of drones is governed by Civil Aviation Authority rules (the Air Navigation Rules 2016 as amended). A drone operator must:
- keep the drone in line of sight at all times;
- not fly the drone above an altitude of 120m;
- fly the drone at a safe distance from people; and
- have developed a safe operational procedure.
There are two keys areas of law that apply to drone use: data protection and privacy (which is beyond this article); and trespass and nuisance. Flying a drone over a someone’s land is not necessarily a trespass or a nuisance unless it interferes with the lawful use of that land: flying a drone low over game cover could very easily interfere with a shoot and constitute a nuisance.
Many people operating drones in order to disrupt field sports may do so from a public highway or from a public right of way. Launching and operating a drone from a public footpath is likely to be a trespass, because it is not being used for a right to pass and repass. A drone landing in a field could be impounded because it will have committed a trespass in falling to the ground and the operator would have to enter without permission to retrieve it.
So, if you are faced with someone using a drone to interfere with your lawful pastime what should you do? Here are some top tips:
- Tempting as it may be, don’t try and shoot it down, however good a shot you are. Chances are that if you hit it, the drone may cause damage or injury when it falls. You may also find the police look dimly on such activity and could review, or revoke, a firearm or shotgun licence. Damaging the drone may also constitute criminal damage.
- Don’t be tempted to try and jam the radio signals between the operator and the drone. This is illegal, and it may cause the drone to act uncontrollably and potentially causing damage or injury.
- Try and identify where the drone is being flown from. If you can obtain photographic or video evidence of this, especially if it can be geo-stamped with a GPS location, then you can give that to the police especially if it is clear that the drone is being operated beyond the line of sight.
- Draw up, or adjust, a written policy for dealing with anti-field sports’ activists, including noting down important or useful telephone numbers; who is to take control of the situation; how to deal with activists flying a drone; and what evidence to try and obtain. Most importantly, do not get into a confrontation.
- If you are a landowner and you find that you are plagued by drone operators then you may be able to obtain an injunction to prevent the flying of drones from, or over, your land.
As we have seen from various protests around the country, from Extinction Rebellion to Insulate Britain, direct action is very much the ‘mode du jour’. However, landowners do have the law on their side when it comes to trespass and interference with a lawful activity, regardless of the rights or wrongs of the protesters’ case. If you feel that you are being deliberately targeted by a drone operator(s), please get in touch and we’ll advise you on next steps.