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.