Drone Safe Register™ (DSR) is increasingly asked by our hobby members and other amateur drone pilots, “Where can I fly my drone?”
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Our advice is always to check with the landowner – before you take to the controls. Even if you take off from private land often, you should not fly over public land without permission.
You’ll also need to ensure you are well aware of the UK’s aviation rules which are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and enforced by the police. (Read more in our recent blog about ‘Operation Foreverwing’)
The use of drones (or UAVs) is becoming increasingly popular as they become more affordable. Just like any other aircraft, a drone must always be flown safely, both concerning other aircraft in shared airspace and also to people and properties on the ground.
There are two sets of regulations that apply to the use of drones in the UK, whether they are being used for commercial or recreational purposes:
The UK’s aviation regulations which are regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
The UK’s data protection regulations are enforced by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO)
The CAA’s drone code
The CAA’s objective is not to stop drone users from having fun, but to ensure that drone users have the information that will help ensure that whilst they’re having fun, they’re not posing a risk to any other aircraft or person.
Last year The CAA launched The Drone Code which all drone pilots must adhere to.
When you fly a drone in the UK, it is your responsibility to be aware of the rules that are in place to keep everyone safe. You must follow these simple steps to make sure you are flying safely and legally.
Here is a summary of the drone code:
Don’t fly near airports or airfields
Remember to stay below 400ft (120m)
Observe your drone at all times – stay 150ft (50m) away from people and property
Never fly near aircraft
Drones with a camera
In addition to the CAA’s rules, there are UK data protection regulations that apply to drones used for capturing personal data. These rules are enforced by the Information Commissioners Office (ICO).
If you have a drone with a camera, its use has the potential to be covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA).
The ICO, therefore, recommends that users of drones with cameras should responsibly operate them to respect the privacy of others and to comply with the provisions of the DPA.
Are drones covered by the Data Protection Act (DPA)?
If a drone has a camera, its use has the potential to be covered by the DPA.
Is it OK to use drones with cameras?
If you are using a drone with a camera, there could be a privacy risk to other people.
Advice from the ICO regarding how to use your drone with a camera responsibly:
Let people know before you start recording
In some scenarios, this is going to be quite easy because you will know everyone within close view (for example, if you are taking a group photo at a family barbecue). In other scenarios, for example at the beach or the park, this is going to be much more difficult so you’ll need to apply some common sense before you start.
Consider your surroundings and be aware of other people’s property.
If you are recording images beyond your home, a drone may intrude on the privacy of others where they expect their privacy to be respected (such as in their back garden. It is worth noting that a person is well-placed to report a drone hovering over their private property, should they feel there is potentially intrusive data being captured).
It is unlikely that you would want a drone to be hovering outside your window so be considerate to others and don’t hover outside theirs.
Get to know what your camera can do, and the kind of images it can capture.
It is a good idea to get to know the capability of your camera in a controlled situation to understand how it works. What is the quality of the image? How powerful is the zoom? Can you control when it starts and stops recording?
Drone cameras are capable of taking unusual and creative pictures from original vantage points. Knowing the capabilities of your camera will help you to reduce the risk of privacy intrusion.
Plan your flight to avoid invading the privacy of others.
Your drone’s battery life is likely to be short. By understanding its capabilities you will be able to make the best use of its flight and it will be easier to plan how to avoid invading the privacy of other people. For example, it may be more privacy-friendly to launch from a different location rather than flying close to other people or their property.
Keep you and your drone in view.
You won’t want to lose it, and if you are clearly visible then it will be easier for members of the public to know that you are the person responsible for the drone. Taking care to ensure that your drone is always in your own visual line of sight is an important part of complying with the CAA’s Drone Code.
Think before sharing any personal data collected.
Once your drone has landed, think carefully about who’s going to be looking at the images, particularly if you’re thinking about posting them on social media. Avoid sharing images that could have unfair or harmful consequences. Apply the same common-sense approach that you would with images or video recorded by a smartphone or digital camera.
Keep the images safe and consider whether you should keep them at all.
Keep the images safe. The images you have taken may be saved on an SD card or USB drive attached to the drone or the camera. If they are not necessary, then don’t keep them. If you do want to keep them, then make sure they are kept in a safe place. Your drone should not be used to obtain images of a person or their private property without their permission.
Keep well away from airports and airfields
Some of the best advice when it comes to where you can fly your drone is to keep well away from airports, airfields, runways, helipads and airstrips. The safety reasons for avoiding airports are clear.
The rules cover not only large international airports such as Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted – which everyone should know about – but also the smaller airfields and military aerodromes as well.
No-Fly Zones (NFZ’s)
Drones.co.uk can help with identifying NFZ’s. This is a free, easy to use tool showing where the no-fly zones are in the UK. They use the rules and regulations of the UK Air Navigation Order (CAP393) to present a simple graphical tool to aid safe flight planning for hobbyists and professional drone operators alike.
*UPDATE (2021) we have now got a UAS map on our website, please use this if you are unsure.
Danger Areas are areas of military airspace often used for activities such as fighter pilot training, live ammunition training or weapons and systems testing (including GPS jamming exercises).
The official definition is “An airspace of defined dimensions within which activities dangerous to the flight of aircraft may exist at the specified time. HIRTA’s are High-Intensity Radio Transmission Areas, flying through these areas could interfere with the electronics onboard your drone.
Prohibited Areas are areas of airspace which for one reason or another have been prohibited from having aircraft enter them.
The official definition is “An airspace of defined dimensions above the land areas or territorial waters of a State within which the flight of aircraft is prohibited” You will have to investigate the NATS AIP for more information about why the area is prohibited.
Aerodrome Traffic Zones
Aerodrome Traffic Zones, surround smaller airports and aerodromes that do not have additional controlled airspace. Other areas of blue identify Controlled Airspace.
If you are operating a drone above 7kg you must not fly in these areas without prior permission from the air traffic service provider controlling that airspace. If you are under 7kg, it is still strongly advised to notify the air traffic service provider of your activity.
Restricted Areas protect sensitive locations such as prisons and nuclear facilities. The official definition is “An airspace of defined dimensions above the land areas or territorial waters of a State within which the flight of aircraft is restricted in accordance with certain specified conditions”
It goes without saying that drones should not be used within these boundaries.
Military Aerodrome Traffic Zones
Military Aerodrome Traffic Zones, similar to civil Aerodrome Traffic Zones, typically protect military aerodromes in the same way.
NATS Drone Assist: helping you to fly safely
Drone Assist is a very useful drone safety app from NATS, the UK’s leading provider of air traffic control services. It also contains a ‘Fly Now’ feature that enables you to share your drone flight.
The app will help to ensure you’re flying your drone safely in the UK. Drone Assist provides location-based information on areas of airspace to avoid or in which extreme caution should be exercised, as well as on-ground hazards that may pose safety, security or privacy risks.
The National Trust
Filming or photography cannot be undertaken at National Trust sites without a contract in place, which has been signed by both parties. All aerial activity above our sites is prohibited unless specific permission is granted, according to an existing by-law.
Here is The National Trust’s policy for hobby drone pilots:
Drone flying by our members or by the general public -
We do not grant permission for private flying for the following reasons;-
CAA regulations state that drones should not be flown above or near people. As our properties often have staff living or working on-site, visitors present or have open access, unauthorised drone flying is both illegal and potentially puts people at risk.
Few non-commercial users have the correct training or permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to operate drones.
If a drone causes damage or harm, pilots generally do not have the correct insurances, or level of insurances, to adequately compensate those affected.
Some sites may have wildlife or agricultural animals, or animals that 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.
Many drones have cameras attached and these could infringe data protection laws (filming people without permission) and potentially could contravene National Trust rules on commercial photography and filming.
The presence of drones can impinge on the quiet enjoyment of our sites by other visitors and therefore potentially presents a public nuisance risk.
You’ll need permission and licence when using drones above Natural England’s land to avoid disturbing wildlife. Drones should not be flown on or over Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) or Special Protection Areas (SPAs) without consent from Natural England.
If you’re not sure if you need a licence, contact Natural England email@example.com to make sure you can carry out your activity without committing an offence.
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)
As a general principle, the RSPB does not allow recreational use of drones on their estates. Nature reserves and land managed for biodiversity and people’s enjoyment are not appropriate places for drone use. If you do require to film at an RSPB reserve you must obtain a licence from the site staff.
Open Access Land
Most areas of open country in England and Wales is accessible to walkers under the “Right to Roam”.
Open country can be defined as mountain, moor, heath, down and common land, and includes national parks such as the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, Exmoor, Peak District, Dartmoor, North York Moors and the South Downs.
The rights of access are defined in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) of 2010, which gives a long list of activities covered by the rights, however, flying a remote-controlled aircraft such as a drone is not one of them. Disturbing animals is not allowed, therefore keep your drones well away from wildlife and livestock, including sheep which can abort their lambs through stress if frightened.
The New Forest
The flying of drones (and model aircraft) is controlled to minimise disturbance of wildlife and people.
Flying on public land
Drone flying by hobbyists or commercial operators on Crown Land owned by the Forestry Commission is not allowed without permission. Email firstname.lastname@example.orgMembers of Beaulieu Model Flying Club can operate their drone within a specified area at Beaulieu Heath. You must be a member and have appropriate insurance to fly here: get full details. Flying on land owned by the National Trust is not permitted without their permission.
The Peak District
Bye-laws exist on Peak District National Park Authority-owned land which precludes the flying of model aircraft. If you want to fly a drone on or over land that the authority does not own, you should seek permission from the landowner, especially where there is potential for disturbance to other people or wildlife.
Yorkshire Dales National Park
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority advise you to obtain permission from the landowner before flying your drone – over 95% of the National Park is in private ownership. You should also think about how your activity might disturb other people who have come to the National Park to enjoy its peace and tranquillity, and the potential to disturb wildlife.
The National Trust owns considerable amounts of land around Malham Tarn and in upper Wharfedale. They do not allow recreational drone flights on their land.
Drone operators must respect the environment, the privacy of others, and take care not to harm or disturb any livestock or wildlife.
South Downs National Park
With permission from South Downs National Park and surrounding landowners, you can fly your drone. You must abide by the drone code.
Vicky Lawrence, Countryside and Policy Manager for the South Downs National Park Authority, says, “At some locations within the South Downs National Park the noise and disturbance caused by drones is becoming a significant problem as it reduces the sense of tranquillity – one of the qualities that make the South Downs special. Our main area of concern is the cumulative impact that drone use can have on tranquil areas and wildlife in the National Park”.
Exmoor - On Land Owned by Exmoor National Park Authority
Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) owns about 7% of the land with the National Park boundary.
You can see what Exmoor National Park owned here:
If you want to fly a drone over Exmoor National Park owned land you will need to ask for permission. Much of the estate is rented by farmers, graziers and others and so it may not always be possible for Exmoor National Park to give you a licence; however, they will do their best to help.
On Other Land Within Exmoor National Park
The Authority can’t permit drones to be flown over other people’s property so you will need the landowner's consent. However, we may be able to help with landowner information.
For further information, please contact:
Exmoor National Park Authority:
For general advice: Access & Recreation Manager: Dan Barnett, email@example.com, 01398 322297
For licensing: Land & Property Manager: Matt Harley, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01398 322274
The use of drones is not permitted on any of the Dartmoor Common lands within the National Park without prior authorisation from the National Park Authority. Permission to fly drones and other model aircraft is not normally granted as the National Park bylaws do not allow for these activities.
Care and attention are required when operating drones in the mountains due to the high number of walkers.
In terms of Snowdon, all the access routes (which are all Public Rights of Way) to and from the summit are geographically very narrow linear corridors with high numbers of walkers. The summit area, in particular, can become congested especially during the summer months. More than one drone flying around within proximity of another may give rise to serious concern in terms of public safety.
Please bear in mind that there may also be other aircraft in the area at a low level such as search and rescue helicopters or those used for military training purposes. Operators and organisers should therefore think carefully when operating drones and their potential for causing serious injury and your subsequent potential liabilities.
For general advice: Access Officer, Peter.Rutherford@eryri-npa.gov.uk – 01766 772258 – 07900 267538
For licensing: Property Officer: Edward.Jones@eryri-npa.gov.uk 01766 772266 – 07900 267530
Please Note: The National Trust does not permit the use of drones over any of their property such as the Ogwen Valley, Carneddau & Glyderau (including Tryfan).
Flying drones as an informal activity or hobby is not allowed on Scotland’s National Forest Estate. This is because this activity is often incompatible with responsible access under the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, particularly in a working forest environment, instances where people are enjoying quiet recreation, or where it may impact people’s privacy.
If you want to fly drones for professional reasons (such as commercial photography, film-making or surveying), please contact the relevant forest district office to apply for permission.
Their permissions guidance will assist you in seeking the correct permissions. Please also consider how your drone use might impact other people’s enjoyment of the forest and their privacy.
New rules are coming
The government announced last month plans to introduce drone registration and safety awareness courses for owners of small unmanned aircraft.
It will affect anyone who owns a drone that weighs more than 250 grams (8oz).
Aviation Minister Lord Callanan recently commented, “Our measures prioritise protecting the public while maximising the full potential of drones.”
“Like all technology, drones too can be misused. By registering drones, introducing safety awareness tests to educate users we can reduce the inadvertent breaching of airspace restrictions to protect the public.”
DSR welcomes these measures in the name of safety. Registration of drones is important for accountability. There has not been a significant accident involving a drone yet, but there have been several reports of near-misses with commercial aircraft. There have also been incidents of drones being used to deliver drugs to prison inmates.