Drones may be used to spy on local farmers

DRONES are being used in Northern Ireland to monitor larch trees but could also be used in future to snoop on fraudulent farmers claiming too much in EU farm payments.

“Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) may offer an effective and efficient solution to the mapping of these (remote commons) areas which in turn could help improve compliance with EU Single Farm Payment rules,” the Farms Minister Michelle O’Neill said.

Forest Service already intends using a UAS to monitor areas of larch trees that may be affected by ramorum disease.

“Work on using near infrared aerial photography to improve early detection commenced late last year and will be resumed in spring as weather permits,” explained the Minister. She said there was further potential for the use of ‘drones’ in a range of forest management situations involving surveys.

These would include - she said - the mapping of forest areas destroyed by forest fires, monitoring the extent of wind damage to plantations, monitoring the success of reforestation, and to assess the spread of invasive plant species on important unplanted habitats.

“These and other uses will be explored throughout 2013,” she said. “The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is actively considering the procurement of UAS to use in two other areas of work, namely to assist with work in the surveillance and statutory control of quarantine organisms harmful to plants; and to help with mapping of areas such as commons.”

She said commons tended to be large inaccessible areas that are difficult to map because of their remoteness and terrain.