A bird's eye view of conservation

Measures resulting from drone-based conservation project will protect skylarks

Photographs taken from RAF planes and drones form the basis of a plan to keep Rodborough Common special for future generations.

On the face of it, military planes and drones are unlikely protagonists in the protection of skylarks, orchids, beetles and wildflower meadows. But at Rodborough Common – an area of rich grassland overlooking Stroud and the Severn Vale in Gloucestershire – aerial photographs taken from RAF planes in the 1950s and by modern day drones reveal how human activity has affected the landscape over time. 

A series of photographs taken between 1950 and 2017 show that the network of footpaths weaving across Rodborough Common has more or less doubled. If the footpaths keep increasing at the rate they have done during the last three years, serious damage will be caused to landscape, vegetation and wildlife.There are also concerns that a housing development underway in nearby Stroud will increase visitor numbers and exacerbate the problem. 

A drone like this one flying over the Greenburn valley in the Lake District will be used at Rodborough Common

Protecting wildlife

The Rodborough Common Conservation Panel, of which the National Trust is a member, plans to send another drone up to survey the area later this year. The findings will be used to create a plan to manage the increasing demand on the common, which is a Special Area of Conservation and home to skylarks, orchids and butterflies, including the rare Adonis Blue and Duke of Burgundy with its distinctive orange spots.

Richard Evans, area ranger, says: 'During the spring and summer skylarks love to nest in the long grasses. We do not want to stop people experiencing the beauty of the common. But where possible we need them to stick to the main paths and stop them from wandering into areas with nesting skylarks.'

We are working with the Rodborough Common Conservation Panel to look at ways of preventing the creation of further paths and encouraging people visiting to stay on the main paths so that they don’t accidentally wander into the skylark nesting areas and other sensitive nature sites.

Richard says: 'We are working hard to find ways to prevent people disturbing nature and wildlife without limiting their time in this magical place. Protecting nature and wildlife also means the common will remain special for future generations.'

Only authorised drone use is permitted over the places we look after. More information about our position on drones can be found here

Corn bunting in a field at Sherborne

Finding farmland birds 

Birds like the skylark, which are in decline elsewhere, can still be seen in large numbers on the Sherborne Park Estate, thanks to the partnership between rangers and local farmers. Over the last year, the BBC Springwatch team have been uncovering how this is helping these birds thrive.