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Using drones and the Law

The laws on drone use are fairly straightforward – but importantly they are slightly different for drones weighing under 250g (the weight of drones operated by most monitor and sabs groups will be 249g) and larger, commercial drones which weigh above 250g.

  • NOTE that from 01 January 2026 all new drones will be required to meet a set of product standards and will be classified from C0 to C4.

 

Crucially to fly any drone with a camera – even drones under 250g – changes in the law in early 2023 made it a requirement for operators to obtain a Flyer ID and an Operator ID from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Most monitor or sab groups will be flying drones that weigh under 250g and the following is a summary of current laws and guidelines as of December 2023.

  1. Drone operators must be at least 12 years old to fly independently.
  2. If a drone is equipped with a camera, the operator must register for an Operator ID with the CAA.
  3. Drones are not permitted to fly higher than 400 feet (120 meters).
  4. Operators must maintain a line of sight with their drone at all times. The CAA says that “You must be able to see your drone or model aircraft clearly enough that you can tell which way it’s facing” without binoculars or electronic viewing equipment.
  5. Drones may be fitted with cameras that provide live video to devices such as smart phones, tablets and video goggles. Flying by watching this video is known as first-person view (FPV). To fly using FPV you must have an observer with you and follow rules for flying with the help of an observer.
  6. You must always check for restrictions (including local by-laws) and hazards (including masts, high buildlings etc) before you fly.
  7. Permission is required before flying in restricted airspace.
  8. You must keep out of the way and not fly in any way that could hamper the emergency services when they’re responding to an emergency incident.
  9. A drone must not be flown within a 5-kilometer radius of airports.
  10. For drones over 250g a minimum distance of 50 meters must be maintained from uninvolved persons, but drones below 250 grams are permitted to fly closer and over people – but not over ‘open-air assemblies’ (an ill-defined term but usually taken to mean eg sporting events, protests parades etc).
  11. Drones weighing 250 grams or more must be operated at least 150 meters away from parks, industrial areas, residential zones, and other built-up locations.
  12. Insurance is mandatory for commercial drone use but not for recreation or hobby use.
  13. Compliance with these regulations is required during both daytime and nighttime operations.

While the rules in the Unmanned Aircraft Regulation and the amended Air Navigation Order must be followed a drone pilot could also be liable for the following:

  • If a pilot intentionally or recklessly hits someone with a drone they could be liable for battery, which carries both criminal and civil sanctions.
  • If a pilot intentionally or recklessly damages someone else’s property with a drone, they could be liable for criminal damage.
  • If a pilot flies a drone without exercising a reasonable standard of care and injures someone or damage their property, they could be charged with negligence and liable to compensate the victim for personal injury or damage to property.
  • If a pilot flies a drone low over someone’s land without permission they could be liable in trespass even if they do not personally go onto the land (trespass is generally a civil rather than a criminal matter).

The operator of a drone is usually the owner. The pilot or flyer is the person who flies the drone or model aircraft. They are not necessarily the same.

The operator is the person responsible for managing a drone and deciding who flies it. They are responsible for maintaining the drone (this could be important if it accidentally hits someone and the operator is sued) and making sure that anyone who flies it has a flyer ID.

A person must be 18 or over to register for an operator ID.

If a drone is not owned by a single person, then a designated person known as the manager is the operator. For example, if a club owns a drone that members can use, then the club must designate a manager for the drone.

You must register before flying most drones (or model aircraft) outdoors in the UK. You do not need to register if you’ll only use a drone that weighs below 250g and is a toy or does not have a camera. The following table is from the CAA. Register requirements can be checked here.

 

Flying weightID needed
Flyer IDOperator ID
below 250g – toyNoNo
below 250g – not a toy – no cameraNoNo
below 250g – not a toy – with cameraNoYes
250g and aboveYesYes

 

  • if you’re responsible for a drone or model aircraft, you must register for an operator ID.
  • if you’ll fly the drone, you must pass an online theory test to get a flyer ID (the test is 40 multiple choice questions, can be taken as many times as you like, and usually takes about 30 minutes).

 

You can get both your flyer ID and operator ID at the same time.

If you have questions contact the Drone and Model Aircraft Registration Team
drone.registration@caa.co.uk
Telephone: 0330 022 9930
Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 4:30pm 

Many drones used to monitor hunts are fitted with cameras that provide live video to devices such as smart phones, tablets and video goggles. Flying by watching this video is known as first-person view (FPV).

To fly using first-person view, the pilot must have an observer and follow the rules for flying with the help of an observer.

The observer must stand next to the pilot and you must be able to talk to each other at all times.

One of you must be able to keep your drone or model aircraft in direct sight and have a full view of the surrounding airspace at all times.

The observer does not need to have a flyer ID, but the pilot must tell them what to look out for.

  • It is important to note that the pilot is still responsible for keeping the flight safe.

The rule about not flying closer than 50m to people depends on the weight/size of the drone being flown.

The Civil Aviation Authority says:

“You must keep a minimum horizontal distance of 50m between your drone or model aircraft and people. This includes people in buildings and transport, including cars, lorries, trains, and boats. This creates a no fly zone around people that goes all the way up to the legal height limit. It can help to think of this no fly zone as a cylinder. You must not fly over people in this no fly zone, even if you fly higher than 50m.”

However, this applies to drones weighing more than 250g: most non-commercial drones are deliberately built to weigh 249g or less.

The rules on minimum distances to people are different for drones and model aircraft below 250g.

If a person is flying a drone or model aircraft that’s below 250g, they can fly closer to people than 50m and they can fly over them.

They still can’t fly over crowds, though, because people in a crowd cannot move away quickly enough to escape a crashing drone because of the number of other people around them.

  • A person flying a drone or model aircraft that’s between 250g and 500g can fly closer to people than 50m but the pilot must get the A2 Certificate of Competency (A2 CofC). They still must not intentionally fly over anyone though.

If the drone is below 20kg and used for recreation, sport, or as a hobby, you can choose whether or not to have insurance.

Although not mandatory for recreational drone use, experts typically suggest that insurance can provide extra protection and peace of mind.

PDRA01 is a type of authorisation, granted by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to fly a drone, within specific limitations, and stands for Pre-defined Risk Assessment.

Most people apply for the UK PDRA-01 as part of their Operational Authorisation from the CAA.

NOTAM stands for Notice to Aviation (in the US also Notice to Air Missions). They are official notices that tell people about activities that may be a hazard to flying. Hazards might include, for example, a balloon show, air show, parachute jump, kite flying, lasers, rocket launches, etc.

Many drone apps include details of NOTAMs. You can also find NOTAMs on the NATS drone website.

The following costs are correct as of 2023:

RegistrationCostValid for
Operator ID£10.331 year
Flyer ID£05 years

The Police in the UK have powers to regulate the use of drones under the Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Act 2021. This gives the police the authority to take action in cases where they believe that a drone is being used in connection with an offence.

The first fine given for improper drone use was for illegally flying drones over professional football matches and London landmarksThe operator was accused by Scotland Yard of flying the aircraft unmanned and – note – “failing to maintain direct visual contact“.

  • If the police believe that a drone is being flown in a way that is breaking the law, they have the power to make the drone operator land the drone.
  • Additionally, they can stop and search people or vehicles to find drones or drone equipment and confiscate any equipment that they find.

It is tempting to deploy drones wherever illegal hunting is taking place – including on the wide open spaces of Salisbury Plain, which is largely used by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The MoD Police do deploy drones over what is known as the Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA), but sabs and monitors may not.

The air space above the SPTA is an MoD Air Danger Area, which means there is a process to be followed prior to a police drone being deployed so that the air space remains safe for those authorised to be there. This requirement means use of drones by the public in the SPTA air space is strictly prohibited, even when there might not appear to be aircraft in the area.

Some hunts are still going on to National Trust land illegally. Can we use a drone to record footage of them?

If a hunt is breaking the law on National Trust land then it would be in their interest to have evidence of that given to them (and the police) but be aware that the National Trust says that it does not grant permission for private flying (ie by the general public) “from our land and properties for the following reasons:

  • Our members and visitors value the peace and tranquillity of our places. The presence of drones can impinge on the quiet enjoyment of our places by other visitors and therefore potentially presents a public nuisance risk.
  • Many of our places have wildlife or agricultural animals which 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 of our places are the homes of our tenants or donor families. We respect and value their privacy and drone use would be an infringement of that privacy.
  • Most drones have cameras attached the use of which could contravene National Trust rules on commercial photography and filming.
  • If a drone causes damage or harm, pilots who are members of the general public rarely have the correct insurances, or level of insurances, to adequately compensate those affected.”

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.
  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act.
If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
 
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what would you need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.

 

DO and DO NOT

  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.
If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.
 
To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
 
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.
Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.

Poaching

Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.

 

  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.

 

  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.

 

  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.

 

If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.