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The antis "drone" on

Countryside Alliance Executive Chairman Barney White-Spunner writes: You may have seen a story in the media about hunts being followed by surveillance ‘drones’. Given the restrictions imposed by the Civil Aviation Authority on the use of drones the chances of any evidence being gathered in this way are limited, even if there were any evidence to be collected. 

I was amused to see the operators making comparisons with ‘monitoring’ pigeon shooting in America which made me think that they had not fully understood the challenge of following a pack of hounds over many, many miles in directions unknown in the finest winter weather Britain can offer. Some of us have been trying to master this skill for half a lifetime without much success so I think the chances of a drone operator mastering it in a few weeks are slim.

More seriously if there is any serious attempt to deploy these aircraft, rather than just using them for a PR stunt, there are potential dangers. The Association of Chief Police Officers has advised police forces not to use helicopters to monitor hunts because of the risk to people on horses and the effect on livestock, and we will never forget the horrific incident when Trevor Morse was killed by a hunt saboteur in a gyrocopter. In the aftermath of Trevor’s death the League Against Cruel Sports said it did not support the use of gyrocopters or any other form of airborne monitoring. A pledge it seems to have forgotten.

And of course there are also serious concerns about the intrusion and anxiety caused by this sort of unregulated, unauthorised surveillance carried out by dubious animal rights groups. The police and other statutory bodies could only carry out such surveillance after fulfilling strict authorisation criteria and we think the same rules should apply to any surveillance which is intended to collect evidence for criminal prosecution.

The anomaly of unauthorised surveillance carried out by private investigators and NGOs was raised in a different context by campaign group Big Brother Watch this week in a new report raising concern about the “gap in UK law emerging around surveillance and the ability of third parties to conduct surveillance operations without proper regulation”. 

The report has the full support of Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, and I hope that other Ministers also take note of the growing concern about the activities of private investigators and self-appointed snoopers.

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