Is flying over SSSIs illegal?

I am constantly seeing people on social media saying that flying over a SSSI (site of special scientific interest) is illegal.

However I have yet to see any legislation to say that it is.

Is it illegal?

Yes there may be birds nesting on SSSIs at certain times of the year - but then they also cover areas of special interest by virtue of its fauna, flora, geological or physiographical / geomorphological features.

Or is it poor generalisation of Drone Police?

There is no airspace regulation / law in place, if that’s what you’re asking? :thinking:

Common sense should prevail for any flight, naturally.


Thats the problem right there.

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Which is my thought - but the way that so many repeat it has questioned my logic and I have wondered if I have missed something in relation to SSSIs

I am sure I have not and I have challenged people to show me where flying over a SSSi or an ASSI in Scotland was illegal. But nobody has ever responded with proof.

I therefore believe the experts here than those on facebook!


Might not be illegal to fly over an SSSI but if you disturb wildlife anywhere then it could be an offence in certain circumstances and SSSI are where you are more likely to do that. Plenty of places do say no drones in the SSSI in their areas, such as the Lake District.

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You have got me thinking now, I am going to be in Norfolk next weekend, on the Broads, and I was going to take the drone with me (obviously) although I may not get chance to fly.

Are there any restrictions I might not have found that I should know about?

(There’s a very good chance it won’t come out of its bag anyway, but it’s good to know, just in case).

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But are they right to say that?

I accept that if you endanger wildlife that might be a crime.

Thanks for that @Doodler I had read that page, which is what prompted me to post the question here as it mentions a lot of the Broads are designated SSSI.
I think it’s going to be a case of just using my own judgment if I do get chance. As it’s towards the end of October, a lot of the reasons for not flying will not be valid, but as we all know, there is bound to be someone who takes offence, so it’s good to know the legality of it in case there are finger wagers about.

Unless there’s byelaws in place, they can’t stop you but I’d say that’s an advisory warning given the wildlife on the broads.


The only relevant law would be the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 but this isn’t strictly related to drone use, just disturbing the wildlife, particularly during nesting periods etc. Advice would be to obviously check with the land owner regarding your take-off point (usual drone code), local government relating to any byelaws in place and any relevant countryside organisations e.g. RSPB with regards to nesting periods. But as has been said, common sense applies and quite frankly, and imho, nobody is likely to care if you’re flying your drone out in the middle of nowhere (that is until the local fauna learns how to submit a noise nuisance complaint…)


The Wildlife act makes it a criminal offence to intentionally or recklessly damage/disturb whatever makes an SSSI special. Whether you know its an SSSI or not.

But following from what @DroneGeek said, if the special feature is a rock, or a flower, your drone is unlikely to be an issue. Birds are the most problematic and the things to watch out for.


As above, restrictions may depend on the nature of the SSSI. One large SSSI near me is designated because of a rare moss on one slope, well away from any paths. But to be sure, I flew with the permission of the warden. You may find this info useful:

Is there a way to discover the nature of each SSSI?

You can access the Citation, Operations Requiring Natural Englands Consent (ORNECs) and the Views about Management (VAM) via The Designated Sites website: The Citation details why a site was designated. If a site is noted for it’s bird populations, be that overwintering or breeding birds, then it may also be a Special Protection Area (SPA). The Designated Sites page for a SSSI will also tell you what other designations a site is part of and give a link to the page for that designation as well.*
– If the site is also a National Nature Reserve you should contact the Reserve Manager for advice and a permit where one is needed. NE manage some NNR’s but others are managed by wildlife organisations and individual trusts. You should find information including contact details for all NNR’s here:

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Living in the Lakes it does make me wonder how my drones might impact the wildlife - then you see this! :see_no_evil:


Devils advocate … They fly over on a regular basis so wildlife would be less likely to settle & nest and the likes of the NT aren’t going to argue with the MoD :joy:

Anyone have any advice on flying in SSSI areas - does one really need permission from Natural England? I’m a bit of a newbie too, but am now operating in the US and UK and will be in Pett Level beach Hastings area this week… and wanted to shoot there, but noticed its an SSSI … Hastings Cliffs to Pett Beach Site of Special Scientific Interest
Thank you in advance! Mind you I have seen footage from that area too, and assumed that no permission was sought from what I could tell. I have a Mavic Mini 2 and a Mavic Air 2. But was thinking of using the mini as its less that 250grams.

This thread has a good discussion of SSSI’s

Basically, it depends …

Ive flown over or around SSSI. Basic common sense applied, if you disturb the birds they soon make their annoyance known. Ive heard of seagulls attacking the drones, though not experienced it.
Personal who do you contact, if the area is busy with people or public i avoid it like the plague.
Get up high enough to not be a nuisance and land asap.
Probably doing it wrong but never had any confrontations.

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Interesting - just had a conversation with Berks bucks oxon wildlife trust to try and get permission to fly over Greenham Common. It has 5 SSSI areas over the commons, and they have a blanket ban march to July because of nesting birds, and then you have to get permission at other times. He was very polite, and grateful to be asked, rather than just turning up. He explained that not all the ensting birds have left yet - and that they would want more notice that call today and fly tomorrow (which is fair), but said that if we out in a request for later in the year it would be considered.

I explained we mainly wanted to photograph the bunkers and he said they weren’t part of the sssi, but almost impossible to get to them without flying over their bit…

So I got the defra page up (very useful) Defra Magic Map and it looks like there is a narrow corridor from the industrial estate to the bunkers…

then I found the rules governing this set of SSSI’s rules and this is where they get you:
“26 Use of vehicles or craft likely to damage or disturb features of interest.”

But I am still not sure if this is actual “Law” or just a polite request…

It looks like they, guessing the owners of the land would have to take you to court: