Drone flight over dot­terels ‘stupid’

Coastal News - - News - By CAR­MEN HALL [email protected]­news.co.nz

The ac­tions of two young­sters fly­ing a drone near six en­dan­gered dot­terels dur­ing the breed­ing sea­son has been la­belled “stupid and fool­ish”.

Cameron Scott cap­tured the im­age at the Whanga­mata¯ Es­tu­ary ear­lier this month and said two young men were fly­ing a drone “di­rectly in front of the roped-off sec­tion of beach by the es­tu­ary, which sup­pos­edly pro­tects the en­dan­gered dot­terel birds”.

He said six dot­terels were fly­ing around and pretty dis­tressed.

“This kind of be­hav­iour seems to me to be in­cred­i­bly stupid. It’s re­ally fool­ish and shows just how ig­no­rant some peo­ple are of the need to pro­tect these birds.”

A DOC spokes­woman said the boys were stand­ing about 20m away from a dot­terel nest­ing site. Peo­ple could be pros­e­cuted if they were found to be dis­rupt­ing the birds as they were highly pro­tected un­der the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act and you needed a per­mit from the de­part­ment to fly a drone on New Zealand’s pub­lic con­ser­va­tion land or near marine mam­mals.

It was breed­ing sea­son and drones could af­fect dot­terel pop­u­la­tions, she said.

”They think the drone is a preda­tor, and leave the nest and/ or chicks un­pro­tected as they try to lead the drone away from the nest and chicks. This can cause eggs to ei­ther over­heat due to the sun or in cooler months cool or lay un­pro­tected and be taken by a black­back gull, who are one of the main preda­tors of dot­terels and can clear out a nest in se­conds.”

Dot­terel ar­eas were very well sign­posted, with plenty of sig­nage at key sites and DOC war­dens in­form­ing the pub­lic of nest­ing ar­eas that were also roped off, she said.

”These sites are man­aged by DOC dot­terel rangers with a net­work of lo­cal vol­un­teer ‘dot­terel min­ders’ who have been do­ing the work for years and are pas­sion­ate about the dot­terels.”

Whanga­mata¯ Dot­terel Min­ders mem­ber Graeme Webb said it was dis­ap­point­ing but the boys may not have re­alised the anx­i­ety they were caus­ing the birds.

Mr Webb said pairs of dot­terels would tackle preda­tors much larger than them­selves.

Thames-coro­man­del District Coun­cil Com­pli­ance man­ager Brian Tay­lor said drones can be flown over pub­lic land as long as the flyer is cour­te­ous of other peo­ple and an­i­mals.

But you could not op­er­ate the drone within 20m of sen­si­tive wildlife habi­tats and nest­ing or roost­ing birds.

”We ask that peo­ple do not use them reck­lessly or cause a nui­sance to peo­ple or an­i­mals. We work with the De­part­ment of Con­ser­va­tion to raise aware­ness about dot­terel habi­tats and put up sig­nage at our beaches, re­quir­ing that dogs be kept on leads around nest­ing ar­eas.”

If the coun­cil re­ceived a com­plaint, per­mis­sion to op­er­ate the drone could be re­voked de­pend­ing on the cir­cum­stances, he said.

”We would have a chat with the drone op­er­a­tor to ed­u­cate them about the harm they’re caus­ing.”

How­ever, it could not is­sue a fine as there was no cen­tral govern­ment leg­is­la­tion reg­u­lat­ing this area, un­like dog con­trol or free­dom camp­ing.

PHOTO /SUP­PLIED

A drone was spot­ted at Whanga­mata¯ Es­tu­ary ear­lier this month be­ing flown close to six dot­terels.

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