Drones serve a significant purpose to the outdoors

Donal Hickey believes the technological advancements in drones could have a significant impact on Ireland’s vegetation, if used properly.

Upwards of 6,000 drones are now being used in Ireland and are going to become a more common sight. They have a wide range of environmental purposes including detecting and mapping the invasive species, Japanese knotweed, now found in many parts of the country.

Elsewhere, drones are proving useful for tracking and monitoring the movements of wildlife in difficult-to-reach places, as well as combating poaching of protected animals.

Knotweed is easily spread by footwear and the wheels of vehicles, for example, which can happen during surveying on the ground, but such risks can be eliminated when mapping is done from the air.

A 250-acre site recently surveyed in Co Kerry had serious knotweed infestation, which only came to attention after surveying. A drone pinpointed the exact location and size of each knotweed cluster which could then be targeted for eradication.

Had the survey been carried out on the ground, there would have been a large risk of making the problem worse by spreading it, according to Paudie Barry, managing director of Baseline Studies, Cork.

Coastal erosion monitoring projects can also benefit from drones, as can flood-protection levies which require regular surveying.

Civil engineering is an area in which drones are proving useful, as Mr Barry notes in the Engineers Journal. Road design and construction is an obvious area while they can also be used to survey roofs and buildings, hospitals, schools, water and sewage-treatment plants, quarries, stockpiles and landscape.

The technology can also be applied to projects in counties Kerry and Donegal to reintroduce white-tailed and golden eagles and red kites in Co Wicklow, for instance. Rather than human interference to establish the location and activities in nests of birds of prey, for instance, drones could provide much necessary information.

An example of vegetation monitoring using drone technology.

River and lake habitats could also come within the scope of drones which provide accurate visual images as they fly at low elevation.

Illegal mountain fires are a plague in spring and early summer and drones might help detect the culprits as well as helping fire services deal with the outbreaks which have threatened people’s homes as well as wildlife and ancient woods in places such as Killarney National Park.

In Australia, drones are helping to track wildlife that people have problems in reaching and this could lead to improvements in animal conservation globally. Down Under, scientists are tracking small migratory birds, such as the endangered swift parrot, which can otherwise be difficult and time-consuming to access.

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