Fears over drones at heritage sites

The Office of Public Works has said it is “alarmed” at the “huge increase” in the flying of unregulated drones near national heritage sites.

As revealed in the Irish Examiner under a Freedom of Information request, one drone got stuck in a wall at Tintern Abbey in Co Wexford and a cherry picker had to be hired to remove it and survey any damage.

However, the OPW said this was not the only incident which resulted in it bringing in an outright ban on drones near such sites.

Other drone-related incidents include:

  • Drone flights undertaken where the device has been flown through the ancient building;
  • Drone flights undertaken at visitor sites directly above large numbers of tourists;
  • Drone flights above private property (certain monuments in State care are privately owned) giving rise to concerns about privacy and insurance.

The OPW spokesman said: “The use of drones for aerial filming and photography is increasing exponentially and the ready availability of these devices is resulting in a significant increase in the number of individuals who are engaging in drone flying both as a leisure and as a business pursuit.

“The OPW Heritage Service has itself made use of the technology to remotely film and photograph inaccessible locations and has no difficulty with the use of the technology when it is used appropriately and with proper skill and care.

“However, the service views with some alarm the huge increase in unsupervised and unregulated flying of drones in the vicinity of national monuments sites and has become concerned at the significant potential the activity has to cause either physical injury to persons or harm to the fabric of fragile structures.”

The OPW is also monitoring the use of metal detectors.

The spokesman stressed that unless someone has formally applied for and received consent in writing from the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs under the National Monuments Acts, it is against the law to be in possession of a detection device in, or at the site of, a monument subject to a preservation order, or a monument in the ownership or guardianship of the minister or a local authority.

The OPW also said it is illegal to use a detection device to search for archaeological objects anywhere within the State or its territorial seas, with the penalty for any such offence a fine of up to €63,486 and/or up to three months imprisonment.

“Anyone using a metal detector in contravention of the above restrictions and who, following detection of an object, digs to retrieve an archaeological object without an excavation licence, may be guilty of an additional offence under the National Monuments Acts,” said the spokesman.

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