Posted on 13 Comments

“A place to fly in peace”?

Concerned walkers have approached the Society on finding that their quiet walks through the Balsdean valley near Woodingdean have been disturbed by drones flying. The Society took up their complaints with the national park authority which has taken enforcement action. Despite this the activity has continued. The Society has written to the Sussex Express as follows:

It is for good reason that the Balsdean valley between Kingston, Woodingdean and Saltdean has been referred to as the “hidden” or “secret” valley. Those who follow the public footpaths to this special place discover a surprisingly tranquil haven, a rarity so close to centres of population in this precious part of the national park.

Until recently, that is. 
Visit — “a place to fly in peace” (we’re talking drones here) — and you will find that not everybody has the same ideas about tranquillity. The activities taking place do not have planning permission and those involved have been instructed by the national park authority to cease. The park planners would appreciate any first hand information from walkers, horse riders. cyclists and others who may have experienced the drones in order to take matters forward.


13 thoughts on ““A place to fly in peace”?

  1. Notwithstanding the comments made by Mr Robinson regarding the potential benefits of drones, I am sorry to have to further disappoint those trying to ban drone flying in this area, beautiful as it surely is. Unfortunately on the basis of current UK aviation law they can fly. Simple as that.

    As a commercial drone pilot licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority I must tell you that absolutely nobody has ANY rights regarding who can fly in airspace other than the UK government directly through the Civil Aviation Authority. Providing a pilot follows Air Navigation orders relevant to the flying of a SUA or SUVA (drones) you can do no more about drones than you can a helicopter or passenger aircraft.

    Providing the drone does not come closer than 50 metres to a walker or any person, building or vehicle not under his or her control, the flying of drones is absolutely legal and cannot be obstructed by The South Downs Society, Brighton and Hove Council or anyone else for that matter. Planning permission is not required any more than it is required for British Airways flying overhead to Gatwick. At takeoff and landing this distance is reduced to 30 metres.

    Case law has established that the rights of a property owner (or trustees) are restricted in relation to the airspace above his land to such a height as is necessary for the ordinary use and enjoyment of his land. This would be a matter of judgement in each case and whether or not there had been an invasion of privacy or an established nuisance would depend upon the frequency of flights, the height of those flights etc. The CAA has prescribed a reasonable height for privacy and safety to be 50 metres.

    Based on existing case law, it may be argued that flying a drone above another’s property at heights so as not to interfere with that party’s ordinary use of the land is unlikely to constitute any form of trespass even over a private home. In addition to this, photographing of that person’s property (or in this case The Downs) on occasion is unlikely to constitute nuisance. Matters do become more complex and less certain however where a drone is flying over another’s property on multiple occasions and taking multiple pictures. However, should you want to enforce the privacy angle in the Downs you would have to ban ALL walkers and all cameras at all times as they could also invade privacy.

    Drone operators must have permission from the owner of the land where a drone takes off and lands and I believe this group of flyers had such permission. I do understand that passions can run high in these areas but I would strongly advise the Downs Society to lobby their MP as you will need a change in aviation law to occur to bring about a ban.

    I understand people once felt upset by the presence of cars. Some may lament for the bygone age but I am afraid in 2017 nobody is entitled to absolute silence anywhere anymore.

    1. Thanks Paul, this is helpful information. What I assume the national park authority (and other local planning authorities around the country) will be looking at is whether, and how, planning controls may apply to the associated “ground based” activity.

  2. Drone flying in Balsdean. Great activity – wrong place. Special Quality 3 of the South Downs National Park tries to protect the “sense of tranquillity and unspoilt places which can give a feeling of peace and space” in the NP. The noise of organised drone flying and associated activities can easily ruin the experience of peace and tranquillity. This activity needs to take place elsewhere.

  3. Well done SDS! This is an extremely important issue and it is right that the Society, together with others, is at the forefront of not only highlighting the problem but also campaigning for preventing ‘Drones’ from wrecking one of the most tranquil and beautiful places in the South Downs. Balsdean, for those who are not familiar with it, is an easy 30 minute walk from Woodingdean/Rottingdean/Saltdean-a little more effort from Kingston! This means it is very unusual to have a valley so close to significant residential areas, adjacent to an SSI and also with long distance views to Seaford Head.
    Brighton and Hove City Council, the landlord, and the South Downs National Park Authority must be put under constant pressure to enforce any appropriate legislation and further, to press MP’s for further powers to prevent this despoliation of this beautiful spot.
    Ken Bodfish
    (in a personal capacity as a member of the South Downs Society)

  4. A National Park is hardly the place one expects to see commercial sport, in such a tranquil setting. When I first came across this, I thought someone was setting up a pop concert: tents, generators, loos, litter bins and other equipment. A few weeks later I was informed by a couple of upset walkers of a big flying event so didn’t venture into the area and last month I saw posters on fence-posts advertising an International Drone Airshow at Balsdean.
    Thank you SDS for informing the SDNPA and for the NPA stopping this highly inappropriate activity happening here. Quite simply, this drone-racing is in the wrong place. When one thinks about all the sites where this could happily take place, in more accessible and sensible locations, it is shame that it ever occurred in this internationally rare conservation area, at the core of the newly designated Biosphere and National Nature Reserve, with sensitive habitat and species all around.
    I wish the drone organisers well at a more suitable site, though their vitriolic attacks (in the link) don’t help their cause.

    1. In response to queries about the Society’s position on the flying of drones at Balsdean we have written to the Sussex Express as follows:

      Drones at Balsdean

      Mr Robinson has reacted strongly to my letter about drone flying at Balsdean, published in the 30 June edition, which requested “any first-hand information from walkers, horse riders, cyclists and others who may have experienced the drones” so that the national park authority would be better able to consider any planning and land management issues that might arise.

      He claims that a single walker raised a complaint “and we … assume that it was championed by the Southdown Society, which was subsequently brought to the South Downs National Park Authority in January.” Not so. We received in December a copy of correspondence on the issue between a member of SDNPA and Rottingdean parish council but, seeing that the relevant authorities were aware of the activity taking place, we did not in fact respond, comment or engage in any way.

      This Society’s involvement began in March of this year when we were approached by a concerned member of the public and we forwarded that concern to the national park planners. They informed us, “We were notified of the drone use … earlier this year, and have instructed Brighton & Hove Council (who are the landowners) to instruct their tenant to cease any kind of drone use at the location. This has been done by B&HC and I have reiterated to the farmer & the “Hidden Valley” group that drone use is not permitted. Those that allow or operate drones have been made fully aware that it is not permitted at this site and it has been explained to them the reasons why, along with the consequences if it continues.” That reads like an instruction to me.

      It would be odd if, as Mr Robinson claims, B&HC “clearly believed” that it was the planning authority. The site is within the national park, SDNPA is the planning authority and B&HC has no agency or delegated responsibilities in that respect. But they do appear to be the landowner.
      The NPA enforcement staff at the park requested us to notify them of any continuing issues and we are happy to do so in order to establish the scale and nature of any problems that may arise. Although some walkers tell us they are put off by the appearance of drones in formerly tranquil areas of countryside, the Society has formed no policy on use of drones in the national park and is content that the NPA is seeking ways of managing their use. We are well aware of their potential value in recording and enjoying the park’s special qualities but feel strongly that, as with all developments in the park, the use of drones should be properly planned and managed.

      Although Mr Robinson states that drone flying at Balsdean ceased in late February, the NPA tell us that they understand that an event took place in May and we received a report and complaint of activity in June. The Hidden Valley website has only in the last few days, no doubt triggered by the Society’s intervention, indicated that activities have ceased. That certainly wasn’t the case when we wrote to the Express in June when the website featured a “mini-airshow no.3”, advertised the availability of vehicle access, portaloos and generators and invited bookings. It may be that any post-February incidents relate to flyers unconnected with Mr Robinson’s organisation – this Society has no vendetta with a particular organisation, only a strong belief that proper procedures should be followed so that all may enjoy the park’s special qualities. Mr Robinson says that drones began flying at the site without planning permission some 18 months ago and the club “has now begun a planning application”: we will consider it carefully and respond when we see it.

      The Society makes no apology for seeking to protect the downs for the quiet enjoyment of all.

      Steve Ankers, Policy Officer

  5. I don’t fly drones but I do know the people behind and I know how committed they are to establishing an environment that is non-disruptive and wholly compatible with all stakeholders in the area.

    Your post seems to be wholly biased and looks for people to report drone users to the “enforcers” in the national park. Can you let us know how much dialogue you had with the people at and what response you got from them before taking this up with the national parks?

    It would be good to know as I am sure they will have described the lengths they are going to to protect the environment and enjoyment for all users of the area.

    It might then also have made it easier for you to write something much less one sided than simply to ask people to complain without considering the whole picture.

    1. The Society was approached by a number of people unhappy about their walks in previously quiet countryside being disturbed. We referred the issue to the national park authority who told us that the activity was taking place without planning permission, that they had instructed the flyers to stop and asked us to let them know of any other experiences so they can form a fair view, which makes sense to us. We don’t control any land or make decisions about what can take place; we try to represent those who seek quiet enjoyment of the national park.

  6. I’m disappointed to see that you’ve felt you had to resort to this action against the latest development in the historic use of the Balsdean area for recreational flying since C. J. Longmore looped the loop there in his glider on
    November 29th, 1931 – and against a new way for this area of public access working farm to be appreciated. I hope that instead of point blank refusing to discuss a mutually beneficial way forward, you can instead have an open dialogue – without prejudice – with these fellow users of the land who have helped educate and enforce the rules and etiquette of the countryside.

    1. Mr Robinson’s account is highly misleading and inaccurate in its references to this Society and we will shortly post our detailed response on our website.

      1. Where is the response? The South Downs is 1,627 km², surely you could just walked in the other 1626km2. Its sad that a few could take down an event that could potentially bring joy to hundreds. Everyone has their own idea on tranquility whether that’s taking a walk or flying a drone, its personal preference. I think the way the South Downs Society has gone about this is in poor taste and only reflects a small groups ideas of what is beneficial to the area.

        1. I think our previous posted comments adequately reflect the Society’s position.

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