Is flying over SSSIs illegal?

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 Section 55 subsection 3 contains:

(3)After subsection (6) insert—
“(6A)A person (other than a section 28G authority acting in the exercise of its functions) who without reasonable excuse—
(a)intentionally or recklessly destroys or damages any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which a site of special scientific interest is of special interest, or
(b)intentionally or recklessly disturbs any of those fauna,
is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.”

So while that document isn’t strictly law, it does indicate a list of activities that DEFRA/Natural England (one of its sponsored state agencies) considers it would want to pursue enforcement on under this legislation and that it considers would likely result in a conviction in the courts.

Also worth noting a level 4 fine on the standard scale isn’t cheap and currently caps at £2,500.

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Still comes down to firstly they got to catch you actually flying. Good preparation and times, definitely has it’s advantages, if a flyer deliberately flies low enough to disturbs or destroying whatever is being protected and gets caught from their actions, so be it.
Obviously certain areas are apparently protected during periods of the year, what happens outside of that?
I’m guessing not many under 250g operators outside of this club know the regulations or for that matter have registered themselves, still too many fliers believing they can fly anywhere. It’s through proper groups or clubs like GADC that your able to find the results like the defra map above that helps plan our flights.

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Also the type of SSSI, if it is flora and fauna is a drone going to cause any damage? I flew over Bamburgh Castle and that is adjacent to an SSSI that covers the beach and up to the castle, people are allowed to trample through the area whereas a drone won’t do any damage IMO.


As with any land or buildings - asking will often get a refusal whether or not the person controlling the land has any power upon what happens above.


In the case of Greenham, there’s a lot of protected birds. Right now the ranger I spoke to was worried about us disturbing the nightjars.

With SSSIs Natural England don’t have an airspace regulatory role but they do have a wildlife protection role and whether your craft is on the ground or in the air, if it’s under your control they can prosecute if you disturb the fauna.

In this kind of situation a prosecution for disturbing the wildlife would only be feasible for them to pursue during nesting season. So you approach them asserting that you will be overflying but you want to secure their cooperation to ensure a mutually agreeable date so that you don’t disturb the wildlife. Document the contact and the outcome of it. If they refuse to cooperate to come to a mutual agreement and they later try to do you under the legislation I mentioned above then your defence is the documented contact where they were unreasonable in coming to a mutually agreeable date to overfly, and thus you were neither reckless nor intentional in any wildlife disturbance.

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Thank you - good to know.

A mute point right now as my Drone drowned itself in the Thames today - :frowning: hopefully between DJI Warranty and Coverdrone Insurance I’ll live to fight this another day…

Sorry to hear that @Adamreading :confused:

Please do let us know how you get on with the insurance claim.

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Today has just been weird!

Just got a call - someone found my drone in the bottom of their boat! Saw the QR code - scanned it and got my name and number and called me.

Still doesn’t explain why it decided to AutoDecend with 60% battery on loss of signal rather than RTH as normal. Will be checking all the settings in the morning when I collect it.

Great news!

Be sure to give them a bottle of something as reward for the safe return :champagne: :wine_glass:

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I love a happy ending…

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If it was me I’d like a bottle of Gold Top milk. :smiley:

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How far away from the home point was it? Less than 20mtr and it lands where it is.

More than 20 meters

Share the Airdata maybe others can help shine that light :wink:

So just an update for closure - Drone has been recovered safe and sound - it was 100% my user error that caused it - working back through the logs, I discovered that on 16th of July, when flying through a barn, i had set the descend instead of RTH, and just plain forgot that i’d done it!

The drone tried to land on the water - realised it was unsafe and hovered 3ft above until the boat’s screen hit it and knocked it onto the prow.

Suffice it to say, many lessons have been learned this weekend… I definitely suffered from a bit of over confidence.

Thanks for all the help.


Drone Assist certainly lists nature reserves but I’ve not come across any SSSI’s on the App. I fly every now and then on wildlife trust area which has no signage regarding drones and neither does their website. If I’m ever approached I’ll then point that out to them.

The Droneprep website shows SSSIs. You can also check the boundaries on the DEFRA Magic map as mentioned above and get more details of a site here:

I fly at a couple of local SSSIs with permission from Natural England and they tell me which areas to avoid and when.