While the use of commercial drones has recently generated interest in the national press, the increasing use of drones in UK agriculture has largely flown under the radar. Agricultural businesses are utilising drones for a wider range of purposes than ever before. From soil and field analysis to the monitoring of arable and pastoral stock, the applications of this new technology are fast evolving.
Burgess Salmon LLP recently published a paper on the legal issues that farmers should consider when operating agricultural drones as well as the protection that the law gives farmers affected by the drone usage of others.
Can a drone commit trespass?
This is the first issue to consider since there are likely to be times where a drone will fly over a landowner’s property without their permission. Whether that drone is operated by GPS navigation or a human, this can be argued as trespass, particularly if the drone was to land or crash land onto someone else’s property.
A drone can also commit trespass when in the air if a court finds that there was an ‘invasion of airspace.’ Essentially, if a drone flies over land at a height that does not interfere with the landowner’s ordinary use / enjoyment of the land then it shouldn’t constitute trespass. Whereas, a drone flying over a landowner’s property at low height could be considered trespass.
Can a drone constitute a nuisance?
Agricultural drone users may also risk being accused of nuisance. For example, agricultural drones used for soil and field analysis may fly over an adjacent property many times and may hover in one place for an extended period of time. This might constitute a noise nuisance. Again, this would be determined on whether or not the noise generated by the drone unreasonably and substantially interferes with the use or enjoyment of the land.
Damage to property
Drones can malfunction and drone operators can make mistakes. At some point, this could result in damage to another’s property. This can be direct damage from the impact of a drone crash or indirect damage, for example by livestock being scared by the drone and causing damage to property. Section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 states that the operator is liable for all damage to property caused by the drone.
At FGS Agri, we are always interested to hear how our farmers are using new technologies to improve their agricultural practices and look forward to seeing how drones can benefit UK farms in the future. This article is intended for your information only and does not constitute legal advice, if you have any questions regarding the use of drones in agriculture, you should contact a reputable solicitor.