Eyes in the sky becoming a useful tool for landowners

Students from Askham Bryan College with a drone on Snilesworth Moor.
Students from Askham Bryan College with a drone on Snilesworth Moor.

They are the eyes in the sky that are giving us new perspectives and they have the potential to change the way we manage the land forever.

Quad bikes and Wellington boots are the typical tools for getting out and about to assess the lay of the land but drone technology offers even greater insight, from the flick of a remote control.

For farmers and landowners, the benefits are becoming obvious, with a drone’s capacity to provide accurate, immediate and targeted images of land across vast acreages to identify problem areas that require attention, or even for tracking livestock. But what of the value for gamekeepers?

Countryside management students at York’s Askham Bryan College are thought to be the first in the UK to be using a drone as part of their gamekeeping studies. Working with estate owners, the North York Moors are proving an ideal base for their practical studies on grouse moors.

College lecturer, Professor Brian Sweeney, said: “We tried it for the first time this year to demonstrate to our students how gamekeepers can use it up on the moors and to look at the landscape from above.

“For heather burning, for example, it gives a better view to help understand what habitats you want to create, which generally consists of as wide a mosaic of different heights of heather as possible, which from the ground is very difficult to envisage what it looks like.”

The students have been asked to survey parts of Fylingdales Moor, which is managed by the Hawk and Owl Trust to support sustainable raptor numbers.

The students fly the drone to record data, and carry out traditional field-based quadrat survey techniques and land survey equipment.

The drone produces still photographs and video to help capture environmental data, map topographical structures and assess vegetation with a view to improving conservation and land management.