Are The Canal and River Trust right in claiming they own the airspace above their land

Hi could somebody please help me with some advice about flying my sub 250g drone over canal and river trust land. I recently contacted the trust to ask if they allow drones to take off and land from their land in the west midlands.
In response they informed me that currently they do not allow recreational drone flights over their land.
My response to them was that they do not own the airspace over their land and I could TOAL from public land and fly over their land.

They insisted that they do own the airspace over their land and sent me this email to back up their claim

would I be breaking any laws flying over their land.

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I’m with you on this one.
As far as I am aware, the CAA regulate all airspace, and there is no restriction to flying over anyones land (other than an airport etc).
There can be issues where invading someones privacy (in their garden for instance) could be seen as trespass, but the Canals and Rivers Trust look after effectively ‘public’ land. The National Trust also do not allow TOAL on their land, but the general consensus is that there is nothing to stop you flying over it.


They are right and they are wrong.

Every landowner has property rights over the airspace above their land. That’s why you can cut down branches that grow across your land from a neighbour’s tree, and why nobody can build a bridge across your land without your agreement. It isn’t “ownership”, because the airspace isn’t listed in your property deeds, but it is a legally enforceable right, covered broadly by the civil torts of trespass and nuisance.

They are wrong to mention 500-feet as their ownership though, that’s a complete fantasy. The limit of their rights depends on whether the incursion into the airspace unreasonably affects their “enjoyment” of the land. You can basically interpret that as flying low where you cause a nuisance = bad; flying high where they don’t even know you are there = good.

The current legal position is set out in legislation here, with the effect of limiting actions in tort so long as you comply with this law (section 76, Civil Aviation Act 1982):


Same argument as tried by National Trust. No-one owns the sky above themselves. Its controlled by the CAA. As long as you respect the right of privacy, and the rules of the CAA, you should be good to go.

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There is no set lower altitude at which a flight becomes trespass over property. It certainly is not 500 feet as they’ve tried to suggest.

Section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act 1982 states that the height has to be “reasonable” having regard to “all the circumstances of the case” meaning not interfering with the lawful activities of the landowner or persons permitted by the landowner to use the land.

In other words as an example if the canal had a ship with a 30m mast coming down it and you hovered at 25m directly above the channel of the canal then that could be trespass (as well as breach of ANO article 241). If you were conducting the same flight at 60m altitude it almost definitely would not.


Miss Clarke ;o)

I’ve had run ins with her


PS: I managed to transcribe from the OP screenshot the FOI response

It’s just a long winded explanation of why they think they own the airspace up to 500 feet which is not the case. Again it’s “reasonable in all the circumstances of the case” and those circumstances include that it’s a UAS and not a noisy manned aircraft.

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Do tell.

Sure. If it were me, I’d just do it.

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Just to say, the “500ft rule” came from the original Rules of the Air 2007 (Section 3(5) Low flying rules).
That was superseded in 2015 by the Rules of the Air 2015 which removed the Low Flying rules, when the Standardised European Rules of the Air was adopted. The minimum height section in SERA (3105) simply says:

" Except when necessary for take-off or landing, or except by permission from the competent authority, aircraft shall not be flown over the congested areas of cities, towns or settlements or over an open-air assembly of persons, unless at such a height as will permit, in the event of an emergency arising, a landing to be made without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface."

VFR and IFR flights do have minimum heights, but they are for manned aircraft, not UAV which are governed by their own specific sections in the ANO.

Also, as described earlier, Section 76 of the Civil Aviation Act applies

I think they need to get a new legal team.

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I’ve flown over numerous canals, don’t ask, won’t get told no, fly safely and responsibly. When I was at the Ribble Link a few months back a couple of Canal and River Trust workers came along in a liveried 4X4, they saw me flying but said nothing.


Yep exactly, and the laws you’re citing have nothing to do with trespass, it’s aviation safety law.

Yeah don’t ask for permission for overflight. Again, it’s not trespass. Just use common sense to keep it at a reasonable height that wouldn’t stray into trespass. Takeoff and landing is where your interest in having permission hangs and public open land? Generally don’t need it at all.


The 500-ft used in aerial trespass case law may have had its origin in aviation safety law, though.


That covers US law, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the same in the UK as the 500-ft figure is the same.

Obviously, superseded by current law in any case.

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Likes to think she owns the skies as well as the waterways, baulked at my admin rates for removing videos and photos from social media sites ;o)


What annoys me most with groups like CRT is they don’t actually own the land, they maintain it on behalf of the government so ultimately it is owned by all of us :man_shrugging:


You’re making me want to overfly a CRT canal and post photos just out of spite now.


The national trust model ;o)


Do it, all the boat owners I have ever spoken to want photos and video emailing to them ;o)


Not exactly managing the canals in the interests of their users then are they with this BS.