The flying of recreational drones in the Canberra Nature Park should be banned, according to nature groups concerned at their adverse effects on birdlife.
President of the Red Hill Regenerators Ross Kingsland has written to Environment Minister Mick Gentleman backing a call from Waltraud Pix from the Friends of Mt Majura for the remotely piloted aircraft to be banned after two incidents in the Red Hill Nature Reserve, including one instance when drones were being raced.
Ms Pix had reached out to Canberra’s nature groups in response to the Red Hill flights and Mr Kingsland said it did not seem compatible to have that sort of activity uncontrolled in the Nature Park.
“If people are doing something that was advantageous for the nature reserve, research or study or something needed for utilities that’s a different matter,” she said.
But the noise of the drone propellers and the potential for collisions were problems for wildlife.
“The birdlife, some of them are quite sensitive to human interaction, it’s something that needs to be looked at pretty closely,” she said.
In the letter to Mr Gentleman, Mr Kingsland says Red Hill Nature Reserve is home to many birds including some rarely found in Canberra and the use of drones is likely to have a significant effect on them.
”The drones would also affect the hundreds of people that regularly use the Reserve for walking,” he says.
An ACT Government spokesperson said the Canberra Nature Park Draft Reserve Management Plan, released for public comment on 23 September, proposed to prohibit the flying of drones in Canberra Nature Park.
“Under this proposal, operation of drones may still be approved for some purposes, such as conservation research, through a licence granted under the Nature Conservation Act,” the spokesperson said.
“If drones were prohibited from use in ACT nature parks and reserves, a Conservation Officer would be able to issue the operator with an Infringement Notice and would also be able to commence prosecution action for more serious cases.”
Greens leader Shane Rattenbury said it was important to find the right balance to allow people to enjoy outdoor recreation without inappropriately impacting the natural environment.
“Civil aviation laws largely prevent people using drones in the urban environment, so naturally people seek to use them in nature reserves and other non-urban areas. It’s important to identify appropriate places where people can fly drones recreationally without disproportionately impacting local communities and wildlife,” he said.
He said research about drones’ impact on wildlife was still emerging and he called on drone operator Wing to release its research, which it had deemed commercial-in-confidence, to help the public have an informed debate on these issues.
The call for recreational drones to be banned from the Canberra Nature Park comes as the Federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development undertakes a review of noise regulation in response to the concerns raised by the delivery operations of Google subsidiary Wing in Canberra and the subsequent Legislative Assembly inquiry.
Wing is currently running a delivery service out of its Mitchell base to Gungahlin suburbs. A trial in Tuggeranong prompted a storm of complaints about noise and privacy, leading to the inquiry and an admission by the department that Wing had been flying in a regulatory vacuum and that commercial and recreational drone operations within Australia require approvals under Federal aviation rules.
A discussion paper issued by the department suggests that it might be better for the states and territories to regulate drone noise, despite the fact that aircraft, even if of such small size, are involved.
“Many drones are not like other aircraft with the ability for drones to operate far closer to people on the ground and operating shorter distances than other aircraft,” it says.
“The proximity of drone operations to the community in built-up and residential areas raises the question of whether states/territories or local government are better placed than the Commonwealth government to regulate drones in terms of their suburban noise intrusion, which could be achieved by amending the Regulations to permit the application of state or territory laws to noise emitted by all/some drones.”
It also says states and territories, which already deal with noise under environmental rules, are arguably better placed to take compliance and enforcement action against people generating an unacceptable noise impact using established regimes not available to the Australian Government.
“However a challenge with drones is that the person responsible for the immediate noise, ie the drone operator, is not always easily identified and the offending drone may quickly depart before apprehension by compliance officers. The CASA drone registration scheme may, once in place, assist in identifying individuals or businesses operating drones,” the paper says.
“Drone regulation by States and Territories might be more suited to certain aspects of drone delivery operations, eg noise around the sites where delivery products (eg food) are being prepared and where the products are actually delivered.”
The review aims to determine the appropriate scope and breadth of future noise regulation as drone operations continue to increase.
The ACT Government would not be drawn on the discussion paper’s proposals and the spokesperson said it would await the outcome of the review. It would be making a submission.
The department will be accepting submissions to the noise review until close of business Friday, 22 November 2019. To make a submission go here.