6 Tips for Holding Natural Baselines While Flying Your Drone

In September of 2018, during an interview for the biomimicry series, we spoke about the baselines of wild spaces. A baseline is defined as a minimum or starting point.  Every environment that we enter has a baseline or normal condition.  A light, a heat, a smell, a presence, a weight, or a sound can all have a perhaps unexpected impact on an environment.  We do not stop to think about how talking loudly with bros might affect the place we are about to enter or how digging a trench to get a little water out of a field might change so many aspects of a healthy ecosystem for a long period of time.  If you send the kids into the woods (guilty!) without a pre-game talk or drive a bulldozer through a stream, then we may really be imposing some unrequested changes!

While flying my drone one day, I saw a turkey vulture. (Cathartes Aura) The carrion was curious about the drone and was considering attacking it.  It occurred to me that I had changed the baseline of the airspace above the woods. How would the turkey vulture or perhaps a hawk looking for prey interpret this?  A year prior, I was directing a commercial video for an outdoor equipment firm that included a scene of horseback riding. Our drone pilot launched the drone and every horse on the farm got nervous.  The entire mood and feeling in the air changed… electrified. Especially affected was the particular horse that we were filming and chasing with our drone.  Imagine… what does a horse think a drone is?  For that matter what does any animal or insect think of a drone?

What would a drone do if it flew into a swarm of bees?  What if it lost power and fell from the sky. (this happens more than you might think) If you can’t locate your fallen drone, what are the effects on the environment of having electronics, lead, battery components in the soil or water?

UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) used to be reserved for trained professionals, military and law enforcement but have become incredibly popular for hobbyists and smaller commercial outfits. The FAA and other policing organizations have very little idea how to keep up with the increasing popularity and ownership of these devices.  But, just as with WiFi and similar communication technologies, little is considered about AEV long term or short terms effects on humans and the environment.

Drones are louder than many people imagine. This may be intensified with animals and insects that are more attuned to sounds and vibrations than we are.  Drones have bright blinking lights and emit and receive signals of all kinds.  This is a big change in a previously quiet place that isn\’t a native home to flying robots.

Of course, drones get some breathtaking shots and my drone has added some beautiful perspective and inspirational imagery to the Forest Ranch’s photos and videos.  I find that digital photographs taken from above with a drone can also be of a lot of use to a permaculture (or any landscape) designer.  Many designers use a top-down approach to creating plan maps, especially when thinking about the larger area around where they want to implement a design.  A designer gets a useful perspective of what might happen uphill or downstream of a site. The big picture, or, as it’s sometimes put, the 10,000-foot view.  (this is a figure of speech but consumer/prosumer drones are not supposed to exceed 120 meters or 400 feet in altitude!)


How can you shield or prepare an environment for your drone use?  I have a few ideas but far from all the answers. Whenever we do anything… including deciding to fly a drone, we should ask ourselves if what we are doing is consensual with the natural environment. How can we limit our impact to things that work with the environments wishes and takes into consideration those that inhabit it?

To hold a natural space’s baseline when using a Drone:

  1. Is there a particular reason that you need to fly the drone?Is there something that you need to discover or document?Will the photo or video help tell the story you are trying to tell, to inspire someone?Will the photo or video give you a tool that you need to protect or improve this environment?
  2. Observe wildlife. Where are animals and insects? Are there birds flying in the air? Try to steer clear of in-use airspace.
  3. Limit your noise. Outfit your drone with the quietest propellers available for that model.
  4. Carefully choose your launch/land spot. Be sure that is outside of the obvious animal habitat.  The takeoff and landing are the louder, more unpredictable and more disruptive parts of drone flight.  Remember. This thing can fly where you want it to. Be careful to choose a respectful remote launch point.
  5. While flying, keep a distance from habitat.  Some “sick” shots can be obtained by flying close to caves, trees, water but consider that this is where many animals live.  If you must go close to objects, be careful… and:
  6. Limit your flight time.Do some research ahead of time. Consider what shots you want that will contribute to your post or video.  Pull up satellite imagery of the area you want to fly in and plot your path so that you don’t have to find it from the air.Get what you need to get done, done but don’t linger. Consider it a job until you’ve landed.  This is good advice for safety as well.

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