Sunrise on a bright autumn day in a mountain nature reserve, somewhere in the Swiss Alps. Several chamois and ibex graze about in a pasture above the tree line. But suddenly, there is a movement and a noise in the sky and all the animals disperse within seconds. What just happened? Out of nowhere, a small multicopter appears along the mountain ridge, probably to film the vertiginous view from the heights.
Small flying devices known as drones are equipped with high performance photo or video cameras as well as a lot of other technical equipment are seen more often in mountainous areas, including the Alpine Protected Areas. Their presence brings about a great risk of disturbing wildlife. This is something that needs to be accounted for in protected area management by those who are responsible for conservation areas. On the other hand, this new and innovative technology offers a large variety of interesting tools and possibilities to facilitate the day-to-day work of protected areas managers when used in a responsible way.
ALPARC held an international conference from March 26th-27th, 2018 in Dobbiaco (It) on the opportunities and threats that the use of drones poses in protected areas. It was an opportunity to hear about the current use of and experience with this new technology in Alpine Protected Areas. Indeed, several protected areas are already using drones for vegetation mapping, remote sensing activities, and the development of 3D elevation modeling or technical interventions in inaccessible areas. An expert for a British research institute presented “guidelines of good practice of drone use” developed in an international context for another highly sensitive area, Antarctica.
During the conference, three roundtable discussions offered the possibility to exchange on the prospects of the use of drones for conservation communication issues, to discuss the multiple legal situations in the Alpine countries and to imagine possible developments in drone robotics adapted to specific (research) needs in protected areas. Finally, the prospect of a common Alpine guideline on the use of drones in sensitive protected natural areas was discussed by the conference delegates.
Conference presentations can be found here.
The delegates of the ALPARC conference on drones in protected areas watching a flying demonstration. Picture taken by a drone.
© Michael Schmalzl, Alpsvision GmbH/s.r.l.