Eyes in the sky
High-end drones are being used to monitor Victorian wetlands during the 2018 Duck Season.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) used a drone contractor over the opening weekend at wetlands in Northern Victoria to conduct surveillance. This is the first year the department has used drones to survey wetlands and also to monitor the behaviour of hunters and protesters, including at wetlands that were closed. “Using drones will be a great way for staff to efficiently survey large masses of land. It will mean we can put staff where they are needed and respond quickly to illegal activities,” DELWP operations manager Glenn Sharp said prior to the opening.
“This is a trial to see if this type of surveillance provides increased efficiencies at large-scale events such as duck hunting opening weekend and other recreational activities on public land.”
The drones are capable of viewing activity from heights that would make it difficult for people on the ground to hear or to observe the drone during flight. Drones were also flown low over wetlands, testing the reaction of birds. The operator was able to fly at heights as low at 30 m without evidence of disturbance.
The deployment of drones is an interesting development, which could change the perception of their usefulness in wildlife management.
Dr Graham Hall, who was in Gippsland at the start of the season collecting head and wing samples for research, is an advocate for using drones to inform the Eastern Australian Waterfowl Count at a more localised level.
He said a paper on an unmanned drone trial in NSW provided the platform for a shift to targeted monitoring of key waterfowl habitat, which can be combined with satellite data on water availability and the evidence from ongoing research on harvested birds to build a bigger and clearer picture for management authorities. “It gets you into a modern paradigm of management that is done all around the world called adaptive management,” Dr Hall said.