France battles illegal drone flights in beloved national parks

France drones national parks

The enduring pandemic hasn’t managed to undermine France’s passion for going on vacation whenever the opportunity arises, though it has forced most travelers to choose domestic destinations over foreign options. That has translated into a recent surge in visits to France’s nature reserves and national parks, and a corresponding increase in the number of drones overhead that now constitute a real problem.

Anti-drone arsenal at France’s national parks include $1,790 fine

France loves its natural spaces, and has a huge number of sites officially listed within that category to prove it. Also reflective of that adoration of quiet, pristine natural settings is the virtually total ban on drones in France’s national parks, particularly the central portions known as the “hearts.” Nearly 1% of the entire country is located within those super-protected zones, but that hasn’t stopped a rising number of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV) from appearing within them in flagrant violation of the law. Not surprisingly, that has resulted in a vigorous effort by park authorities to crack down on the illicit flights.

Rangers at national parks and managers of nature reserves across France have upped their efforts to remind the public that drones aren’t permitted within protected areas prior to visits. When the telltale whine of UAV are heard – usually reported by other visitors annoyed by the peace of the areas being disrupted – officials move quickly to bring the craft back to earth. Once grounded, offending pilots can be slapped with fines of up to $1,790 – in line with the penalties doled out to helicopters flying over without permission. 

The reason for the same, heavy punishment: the two types of craft pose the same risk of frightening animals in ways that could lead to severe injury or death.

“They’re perceived as a predator by ibex and chamois, for example,” Franck Reisdorffer, an official with the Pyrenees National Park told radio station France Inter this month. “A [drone] video pilot came to capture footage of snow-covered areas in the heart of the park. He tracked some ibex with his drone… and they bolted straight into one of the most dangerous parts of the area, and risked provoking avalanches, or be caught in one themselves.”

Educating uniformed pilots, and tracking down illegally shot videos

But the hoofed residents of France’s national parks are far from the only wildlife at risk from drone flights in amid their bustling wilderness.

As noted in other DroneDJ stories regarding the spooking or harassment of wildlife around the world, the alarmed reaction animals have to UAV can be as diverse as they are potentially tragic. Terrified creatures can stampede to escape, and risk crushing one another or tumbling off steep slopes. Birds fleeing out of self-preservation leave eggs and young ones vulnerable to nearby scavengers. And drones flying close enough to any kind of wild critter – particularly raptors – can provoke defensive attacks that end in serious injuries from drone rotors. The only sure preventive measure to avoid those situations is to keep drones from entering them in the first place.

Reisdorffer says most illicit pilots simply never got the word of the bans, and are guilty mostly of insouciance. The number of people breaking the drone prohibitions willfully, however, are high enough that authorities now actively hunt them down while they’re still in France’s national parks, or make contact once they’ve spotted videos of the unlawful flights online.

“Broadcasting a video of a drone in somewhere where it isn’t allowed is considered the same as the original infraction,” Reisdorffer notes.  

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