Winter grazing, environmentalists and the rules around unauthorised drone filming

Just because you discover a drone flying over your property without permission, doesn't mean you can take it down.
Just because you discover a drone flying over your property without permission, doesn't mean you can take it down. Photo credit: Getty

Questions are being raised online about what rights farmers have if they discover an unauthorised drone flying over their property.

That comes as the issue of winter grazing - where animals are strip fed a crop - returns to the spotlight.

Last year, environmentalist Angus Robson spearheaded a campaign against the practice, which he says is both an environmental and animal welfare issue. 

As part of that campaign, photos and drone footage were released showing cows standing and lying in mud after being confined to a restricted area.

Environmentalists said it was cruel for animals to wallow in such conditions and cited cases where cows gave birth to calves while standing knee-deep in mud.

A taskforce was subsequently set up by Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor and then in March this year an action group was launched to implement recommendations to improve animal welfare in winter grazing systems.

Earlier this week, Robson was invited to Southland by Federated Farmers Southland president Geoffrey Young to see improvements made to winter grazing conditions in the region. 

Following their visit, Robson spoke to a regional radio show where he was asked by the host about the use of drones to obtain footage of grazing stock and whether it was legal to film over other people's land.

"If you've got a 102 licence it's legal," Robson answered.

The conversation followed the publication of an editorial for Dairy News, which wrote that "Southland farmers should not fear drones flying over their farms".

"With many farmers in the region already under significant pressure from poor growth conditions, flood impact and imposed overstocking due to the processing constraints of COVID-19, the last thing they need worry about is unidentified drones flying over their properties taking photos," the op-ed stated.

Online, people were less subtle, with at least one farmer saying he was carrying his shotgun around to shoot down any unauthorised drones found flying over his property.

Robson told Newshub all drone footage used by his campaign was given to him by others and he himself never flew the aircraft.

"I hate the bloody things," he said.

He also said that he believed most footage was taken from above public land, such as roads and rivers.

Although drones had occasionally been used to highlight farm conditions photos did a far better job, he added.  

"We get better pictures from the side of the road."

He also said that environmentalists had "been stoked" with the difference last year's campaign had made, but there were still plans to continue to raise awareness around the issue this year.

What are your rights if you find an unauthorised drone flying over your property?

So what are the rules around using drones to film farmland?

According to a spokesperson from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in order to fly over private property you "must get the owner or occupier's permission first". 

"You must always ask before flying over people."

Even with a 102 licence you "would still need to ask for the landowner's permission", the spokesperson said.

Depending on the nature of the breach, the unauthorised drone operator may receive a warning letter from the CAA, infringement notices up to $5000 or face prosecution.

But just because you discover a drone flying over your property without permission, doesn't mean you can whip out your gun and take it down.

"Someone trying to take out the drone could increase the risk as the drone could become uncontrollable, fall out of the sky and hit someone," the spokesperson said.

"Shooting down any drone that's hovering over your property would constitute any number of offences under the Summary Offences Act 1981, the Crimes Act 1961 and the Arms Act 1983."

Anyone who finds what they believe is an unauthorised drone flying over their property, can report the incident to 0508 4 SAFETY (0508 472 338) or email  

When submitting a complaint they are asked to provide as much detail as possible, including when and where exactly they saw it, their contact details and if possible a photo or description of the person flying the drone.