Water/Wastewater

Can Drones Help Crack Down on Bad Farming?

Apr 05 2018 Read 1667 Times

A coalition of environmental charities and concerned parties has urged the government to employ drones in order to crack down on careless and irresponsible farming practices which contribute to soil run-off, floods and poor water quality.

The coalition argues that the Environment Agency currently suffers from significant under-funding and as a result is only able to monitor 0.5% of all farmland. By using drones, that percentage could be increased exponentially and the money saved in cleaning up flooded lakes and reservoirs would pay back the cost of the drones tenfold.

The voice of reason?

The report comes from a trio of environmental groups – the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Angling Trust and the Rivers Trust – along with support from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). They argue that outdated methods of farming are to blame for poor soil quality and deteriorating levels of health in British rivers, which in turn contribute to floods.

Indeed, according to statistics provided by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the combined cost of soil degradation in England and Wales is believed to be around £1.2 billion every year. At the same time, the Environment Agency is woefully underfunded and therefore not able to adequately monitor farming practices across the country.

Drone trial yields positive results

A trial scheme utilising drones to survey farm lands in Herefordshire has been running for several years now and has shown positive results. The drone is remotely guided by a contour map and focuses on potato and maize crops, analysing fields to pinpoint the regions most likely to suffer soil degradation in periods of heavy precipitation.

This approach allows farmers to identify which areas require extra conservation efforts and tackle them accordingly. This could involve screening soil for unwanted contaminants, increasing pastureland to reduce the impact of hooves on compacted soil, planting grasses on the fringes of fields to absorb rain that runs away and employing minimum tillage, which dispenses with a traditional plough and therefore displaces less soil.

Carrot and stick

The authors have stated that they believe first-time offenders should be offered advice on how to adapt their farming practices, rather than be punished. However, if they are found to repeatedly transgress, they should be penalised and lose the privilege of farm grants. Those who practice environmentally-conscious methods, on the other hand, should be rewarded via a system of grants.

“The rules on protecting soil aren't being enforced,” explained Mark Lloyd of the Angling Trust, one of the co-authors of the report. “We need a baseline of regulation to stop bad farmers doing the wrong thing and to stop good farmers looking over the fence and seeing someone else get away with it.”

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