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Drones in conservation parks

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A visit to SE Australia
A visit to Coober Pedy

Drones: some notes, thoughts, observations, uses

I bought a Phantom 3 Advanced drone in December 2015. It is a truly remarkable piece of highly advanced technology, combining computing power, radio communication, multi-functional graphic displays, highly powered but very small electric motors and advanced lithium battery technologies.

Most important to me, the Phantom gave me the power to place a camera within a three dimensional space rather than the two dimensions to which I, and most other photographers, are usually limited. It literally gave me another dimension in my choice of where to place my camera.

This page discusses drones in general; I have written notes specific to the DJI Phantom on another page.

Page created 2016/10/13, modified 2018/05/16 – ©
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com

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My drone

Serpentine River, Mandurah, Western Australia
War Memorial
Mandurah War Memorial, Western Australia
The photo on the right was taken a few days after I bought my drone. It attracts interest from passers-by. I'm the one in the foreground on the right here, the walker with his dog stopped to chat. Unfortunately, keeping up even a light conversation does not aid the concentration required to fly the drone and take photos, especially when you are learning.

Learning to fly a drone can probably best be compared to learning to drive a car. It requires full concentration at the beginning. After a relatively short time I found I got into, for want of better words, a 'frame of mind' specific to drone-flying, and when I stopped flying, I had to switch back to my normal 'frame of mind'.

With longer practice, the switching from drone flying to normal functioning became more automatic and unnoticed.

The second photo on the right was taken in the sea-side city of Mandurah, Western Australia. Mandurah is on very flat ground; a drone gives a view-point that cannot be obtained by climbing a hill – there are no hills.



What subjects have I used a drone to photograph?

Also see Drones in conservation parks in Australia

A large installation on flat ground

Sundrop Farm

Above is Sundrop Farm, Port Augusta. It is a giant tomato-growing operation in a hot dry part of South Australia that uses solar power (in the foreground) to take the salt out of seawater and to heat or cool the greenhouses (in the background).

The land is quite flat, so one can see very little from the ground, but a drone allows you to place a camera exactly where you want it.

An elevated view of something one could not normally get close to

Wind farm

Hallett Hill Wind Farm in South Australia is on farming/grazing land. My drone was flown from a nearby public road and allowed me to get a perspective close to one of the turbines with some of the others in the background.

It was a fairly calm day; the turbines were hardly moving.

A solar PV farm, from a drone and from the ground

Bungala Solar Farm, Stage 1, under construction
Bungalla Solar Farm
Photo taken with my drone, 2018/05/10

Bungalla Solar Farm
Bungala solar farm, photo taken from ground level, 2018/05/10

Irrigation channels near Hay

Irrigation channel
This, compared to the next photo taken from my drone, shows the value of a drone in providing an idea of a large feature on flat ground.

The Hay Plain would have to be one of the flattest and extensive plains that I know of. The observer/photographer on the ground is very limited in what he can see and photograph.

Irrigation channels
About 40km west of Hay, on the great plain of the Murrumbidgee, in an area too dry to grow cereal crops, we came across these unlined irrigation channels. We saw no irrigated areas from the ground; it was only after looking at some photos taken from my drone at perhaps 100m altitude that I saw some irrigated paddocks in the distance (one is just visible on the far right of the image).

The losses due to evaporation and soakage from these very long channels must be enormous; the losses due to the inefficient flood-irrigation used at the ends of the channels would probably be even greater.

In late 2016 the (Liberal-National Coalition) Federal government was intending to increase the amount of water that can legally be taken from the Murray-Darling river system and reduce the amount reserved for the environment.

Perhaps if the huge waste in the current irrigation practices, such as to be seen here, was cut out, we would have enough water for both irrigators and environment?

Click on (or touch) the image to see it in more detail.

Travelling irrigator

A travelling irrigator west of Hay

I took this photo on 2017/03/20.

It was on the previous trip that I took the photos above. I thought that the water in the irrigation chanels would have been used for flood irrigation, which is a very inefficient way of using water to grow plants.

This drone photo shows a more efficient method. The machine in the foreground pumps water from the ditch through the pipeline and out through sprinklers; it slowly moves along the channel, watering as it goes.

I didn't know that the travelling irrigator followed an irrigation channel until I flew my drone.

Click (or tap) on the image to view full size; use back-arrow to come back.

Drones in conservation parks in Australia

I used a drone to get some photos of The Breakaways, a striking area of colourful hills in an arid area near Coober Pedy in South Australia.

Shortly after I flew my drone a woman came and told me that it was illegal to use a drone in a conservation park. I asked her what the justification for this was and she replied that it was to protect Aboriginal sacred sites, which might be visible from a drone while not from the places where walkers go.

The great advantage to photography that a drone gives in The Breakaways is that it can get above the level of the ridge-tops, there is no other way of doing so.

On 2016/09/19 I emailed the Department of Environment asking about this prohibition. I received a reply on 2016/09/28. The reason the writer gave was:

The use of drones in parks is regulated to protect our native fauna, as well as the community. Flying a drone in a park can present a nuisance because of the impact on the privacy and enjoyment of visitors, but they can also disturb nesting birds such as osprey and other raptors. If these birds are disturbed, they many not return to their nests, resulting in the death of their chicks.

Permission to use a drone in a park may be given as part of an application to undertake an activity such [as] commercial photography or scientific research.
The spokesman for DoE did not mention Aboriginal sacred sites; if the banning of drones in conservation parks is at least partly to do with Aboriginal sacred sites then it greatly concerns me that everyone should have their freedoms limited based on the superstitions of a few.

Since writing this I have been contacted by someone who told me he had been told to stop using his drone at Kings Canyon National Park. The same justification about Aboriginal sacred sites was given. He said that this was absurd because helicopter flights over the canyon were frequent and they would be looking at the same sites.

Of course there are no ospreys in Australia's inland conservation parks. If drones can frighten raptors off their nests, can aeroplanes and helicopters do the same?

Victimless crimes

Flying a drone in a conservation park or national park generally does no harm; if it is a crime then there is no victim. Can anything really be a crime if it has no victim?


In the Flinders Ranges national park one frequently hears helicopter of fixed-wing aircraft on sight-seeing flights. These aircraft would make a thousand times the noise of a drone. Surely noisy large aircraft cause far more annoyance than drones do.

Drones should be used responsibly and with consideration for other people and animals, but the total banning of drones in parks is unjustifiable.

Advantage of drone photography in this sort of area

My Coober Pedy trip was in September 2016; it has confirmed to me the value of drones for landscape photography.

The photos that were taken with my drone would have been impossible to get any other way, short of hiring a helicopter. I believe that they have added a lot more interest to this page than there would otherwise have been.

As of 2016/09/24 there were 65 photos on the Coober Pedy page; 13 of those were drone images, the others were taken with a Canon EOS 350D digital SLR camera. While I thought that 52% of the DSLR photos were worth displaying in high definition, I used 84% of the drone photos at high definition.


Drones in conservation parks in Australia
Photographic subjects