IT WAS announced last week that Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole are to pilot a new scheme this summer which will see drones being used to monitor litter along the seafront.

The collaborative project between BCP Council, environmental charity Hubbub, Ellipsis Earth and McDonald’s will see information gathered from drones used to inform various aspects to do with the disposal of rubbish.

These include the future placement of bins, street cleansing schedules and behaviour change campaigns to encourage visitors to dispose of their litter responsibly.

But how exactly will the scheme work? Where will the drones be flying? And how does the initiative fit with current regulations?

We spoke to a representative from Ellipsis Earth, the company behind the drones, to find out more.

How many drones will be used in the scheme?

"Only one drone will be used per site, and largely only on the beach and waterfront sites."

Where will the drones be flying?

"For the Leave Only Footprints campaign with Hubbub and BCP council, Ellipsis Earth will be capturing aerial imagery and video of selected sites across the conurbation of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

"These sites include areas of public beach between Hengistbury Head and Sandbanks.

Bournemouth Echo:

"The imagery captured will be low altitude birds-eye view images of the beach sites from the water’s edge to the top of the beach, of empty beaches in the early mornings.

"Eight particular sites are to be focussed on between Hengistbury Head and Sandbanks, including Bournemouth Pier, Boscombe Pier, Alum Chine, Fisherman’s Walk, Canford Cliffs and Southbourne beach."

When will they be in the air and for how long?

"Ellipsis’ Flight Team will operate during very early morning hours, from 4am to around 9am, when footfall is minimal to none.

"The first audit took place at the end of March. The audit will be repeated in May as the weather improves and further lockdown restrictions ease.

Bournemouth Echo:

"This data will inform a series of litter-busting interventions over the course of the summer and a further survey will take place in July to assess the effectiveness of the actions taken.

"The data collated by Ellipsis regarding litter trends, hotspots and behaviour will also play a vital role in longer term BCP bin strategy."

How does the project fit with regulations on drone usage in public areas?

"All flights are conducted by experienced pilots under full risk assessments, with all necessary clearances and permissions, and with global public liability insurance.

"Ellipsis Earth operates on public land with council permission in open airspace and gathers legally compliant imagery of the ground only and are fully compliant with UK and international GDPR regulations.

"All surveys are conducted to the highest safety standards and exceed the required UK regulatory protocols.

"Ellipsis Earth are proud ambassadors of #dronesforgood and responsible drone flight, aiming to demonstrate the positive use of drones and their potential as a scientific tool.

Bournemouth Echo:

"This initiative is compliant with regulations and will not be surveilling people.

"Ellipsis Earth does not conduct flights over people for safety reasons and their drones are not equipped with any surveillance technology or capabilities beyond still image or video.

"In addition, their software automatically rejects any identifiable images of people, pixelating them and then deleting them from our system to avoid any issues with identification."

Could anyone fly the drone?

"No. The Ellipsis Earth Flight team are fully qualified, experienced, insured and advanced UAV pilots and co-pilots with full UK CAA-approved commercial UAV licenses.

"They have experience of operating in some of the harshest, most remote and most difficult terrains in the world."

Is this the first time this software will be used anywhere in the world?

"Although this is a pilot and the first time this kind of technology has been used in the UK to tackle litter, the partners involved were inspired by the huge success of the project which took place in Sorrento last summer.

"During this period, we enabled authorities to reduce litter by 45 per cent and cigarette butt waste by 69 per cent. 

Bournemouth Echo:

"This was done through communication campaigns with visitors and business owners and strategically placing new litterbins and ashtrays across the town, based on the data collected."

Are the company expecting the findings to be different here compared to Sorrento?

"The findings from the data mapping is highly detailed – even down to the exact type of every individual piece of litter – and so will be highly specific to Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole.

"This in itself means that the findings will be different to the study in Sorrento.

"This is the first resort in the UK to use this innovative research and technology.  This summer, the intelligence gathered from the drone data will inform the strategic placement of bins, street cleaning schedules and engaging interventions designed by Hubbub to encourage the public to dispose of their litter responsibly.

"Basing behaviour change activity on real data will really help us maximise impact and Hubbub, BCP Council and McDonald’s are excited by what could be achieved."

What has BCP Council said? 

A BCP Council spokesperson said: “The use of drones was trialled over the Easter Weekend as a method of managing crowds and to identify key busy areas in order that the council and partners are able to organise and deploy relevant resources to identified areas.

"During the trial drones were flown twice daily at heights of between 100-200ft and were not recording. We are now considering the options for drone use as part of our seasonal response plan, which take account of the issues experienced last year as well as the exceptional circumstances and very busy season expected this year.”