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Churches warned drones could lead to court

27 February 2015


CHURCHES are turning to the new technology of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or drones, to cut costs when surveying potential problem areas high up on the building.

But, although hiring a camera-equipped drone to take close-ups can seem cheaper than scaffolding, it could lead to court and a fine.

Staff at St Mark's, Marske-in-Cleveland, North Yorkshire, had to cut short a survey of pigeon damage when they discovered that they were contravening Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulations.

These include obtaining CAA permission to operate drones for commercial work; a no-fly zone within 50 metres of a building, unless the "pilot" has "control of the building"; and not flying within 150 metres of a congested area or large group of people.

The steeple-keeper of St Mark's, Peter Southeran, said: "It makes it very difficult: it means that virtually no one can fly these little devices from their own back garden, because they don't control their neighbour's garden."

In the end, they closed off the churchyard with red-and-white barrier tape, and stationed two marshals to warn people away. "We even considered putting someone on the supermarket car park next door, just in case it blew someone's hat off," Mr Southeran said.

"But it was a very worthwhile exercise in the end: we got some excellent pictures. We discovered the need for a huge amount of remedial work. We also flew the length of the church roof to check for loose slates or flashing.

"I would recommend it; but tell people to keep within the law. In a rural churchyard, it shouldn't be any problem, but you can't do this in the middle of the high street - a strong puff of wind could well put it somewhere it shouldn't be."

The secretary of the Ecclesiastical Architects and Surveyors Association, Mark Pearce, agreed. "In urban situations, it can be a bit of a problem. I have had some difficulties, and, in the end, had to resort to other methods, such as cameras on exceedingly long poles.

"The people who supply this equipment need to get their heads round it and get themselves certified so no difficult situations occur."


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