Whether or not we were flying higher than an Eagle is up for debate
(the BTO probably have facts and figures on these things), but the
wind was definitely beneath the wings of Desmond, the NEYEDC drone as
it took to the air on Friday August 30th. So much so in fact that the
30 mph gusts threatened to put a stop to any flying at all.
A Drone Information Day was put on by NEYEDC last Friday as part of
their Nature Hack project, funded by the National Lottery Heritage
Fund’s Resilient Heritage. It was aimed at land managers and those
providing services to land managers. Colleagues from TVERC and
Rotherham BRC were present, as well as conservation land managers from
around Yorkshire, at RSPB Fairburn Ings.
The indoor morning session was spent learning about the fundamentals
of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), including examples of various
models, associated costs, training and regulatory and legal
necessities with Keith from Drone Pilot Academy. Simon from NEYEDC
explained the uses of UAVs from a land management point of view, which
was of particular interest to me. I think the key point is that data
from UAVs has a unique place within the hierarchy of data sources.
Whilst satellites and manned aircraft offer certain types of habitat
and land use data which are often easier to acquire, but at lower
resolution and confident levels (e.g. Land Cover
Map), on the ground human surveyors offer high resolution data at
very high levels of confidence. UAVs can offer something in between
but also different as well. What they offer depends on the hardware
being used as different types of sensor collect different types of
data and the way the data is analysed. NEYEDC have used RGB data to
categorise and quantify coastal habitats, for example.
The afternoon session was spent outside flying some of the vehicles
talked about in the morning – two quadcopter drones and NEYEDC’s own
fixed wing Sensefly eBee (pictured above), which they’ve named
Desmond. The thing that impressed me was how easy it is to fly the
machines, even in difficult conditions, thanks to the assistance
offered by the geostationary stabilisation system built into these
UAVs. The manually operated quadcopters are easily controlled with a
familiar games console style controller, so I can’t imagine it takes
much training before users are able to start collecting data
confidently. The eBee needs to be programmed to fly a mapping
machine, but it was impressive how quickly Simon and Mark were able to
get the vehicle out, set it up, launch it on a short flight plan and
land it safely.
Having heard quite a lot about drones over the last couple of years,
it was great to actually see them in action. I am now very confident
that where there is a need to capture data from the air, LERCS with
drones would be able to meet it.