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Wales flies drones to map sites

15 July 2016


Looking up: pupils watch a drone it collect the data and photograph headstones in St Nicholas’s churchyard

Looking up: pupils watch a drone it collect the data and photograph headstones in St Nicholas’s churchyard

CHURCHES in Wales are reaping the benefits of modern technology to manage their historical churchyards and burial sites.

Four parishes in Llandaff diocese are piloting a project using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, commonly known as drones) to map church grounds. By combining drone-generated maps with photographs and written records, it is hoped that the project will help with locating and maintaining graves.

Tim Viney, the managing director of Atlantic Geomatics, which is providing the project with their Burial Ground Management System software, said: “Virtually no churches have mapping of their churchyard, and often their registers are not backed up; so there is a great risk of things being lost.”

The Care of Churches advisor for Llandaff diocese, Sarah Perons, said this week that the system would “provide a vehicle for historical information, and allow easy access to family history”.

Pupils from St Nicholas Church in Wales Primary School were involved, helping to photograph headstones and watching as the drones were flown to capture images of St Nicholas’s, St Nicholas. Speaking this week, the deputy head, Rhys Jones, said that the Year six pupils had “thoroughly enjoyed” the “fascinating experience”.

The possibilities extend beyond locating graves, however. Atlantic Geomatics explained that the maps will show remaining space in churchyards, aiding future planning. The maps will be easily accessible, and can be updated to account for new burials. In addition, as Ms Perons highlighted, drones provide “the added benefit of enabling us to check the condition of our church buildings without having to erect scaffolding.” Indeed, earlier this year, staff at Chichester Cathedral used drones to survey the spire after storm damage in 2014, as well as taking footage of the nave and cloisters.

The project will be used at St Augustine’s, Penarth, to examine the churchyard’s wildlife and ecology.

After the recent rapid increase in drone usage, there are several UK legal restrictions with which the project must comply. For example, drones cannot be flown within 50 metres of any structure, vehicle, or vessel other than the one being examined; within 50 metres of another person; or within 150 metres of a congested area.

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