Environment Agency deploys external drone operator to detect illegal water abstractions


The Environment Agency has announced it will be deploying a third party drone operator to help with its work in detecting illegal water abstractions in the UK.

The organisation manages abstraction to balance the needs of the environment with the rights of lawful water users during periods of dry weather.

Its regulatory officers carry out high visibility patrols every year throughout the irrigation season to ensure landowners and farmers are adhering to the conditions of their licences and do not cause harm to the environment.

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However, last year’s heatwave led to a number of licence holders breaching their conditions and this year some illegal abstractions have already been uncovered.

This has led to the agency needing to be more proactive in its patrols to ensure license agreements are not broken and it believes a drone can help with this.

It detailed that a third party will be employed to operate the drone, which connects to a web portal, so that an Environment Agency staff member can view the images from a computer and direct the device to fly over certain locations.

If irrigators are found to be abstracting illegally, enforcement action will be taken which can include written warnings, civil sanctions, and referral to the Rural Payments Agency or prosecution.

Andrew Chapman, environment planning specialist for the Environment Agency in East Anglia, commented: “Following on from the hot and dry summer we experienced in 2018 our area has not received the winter rainfall we would normally expect and this is placing significant pressure on the water environment.

“We have contacted irrigators who have licences that permit abstraction from the Middle Level to inform them that restrictions are likely to be required during the irrigation season. We will be prioritising our water resources compliance work over the summer period in those catchments that are at risk from this prolonged dry period,” he added.

Explaining: “This will be the first time we have ever used drones for this purpose. The majority of irrigators do operate within their licence conditions. However, last year a minority of farmers did not play by the rules and severely restricted other people’s ability to irrigate their crops.”

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Alex Douglas

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