Eye spy: farms under surveillance

31 Mar, 2013 07:00 AM

AN environment group is about to become the first in Australia to deploy surveillance drones to hunt for evidence of animal abuse on private property.

Animal Liberation will operate a drone, equipped with a powerful camera, above free-range egg farms, sheep farms and cattle yards to gather evidence of abuse.

And there appears to be little farmers can do to avoid coming under drone surveillance - flying drones above tree height is legal.

''Our legal advice is that if you're no nearer than 10 metres above ground, and you're not filming in anyone's houses, you can go ahead,'' said Mark Pearson, head of the animal welfare group.

''For example, if an egg producer says that they are free range, it would be helpful to check their claims by filming from above the property. You can gather the evidence, and there's no need to trespass. Or let's say we find a sheep dying from fly strike, we can record the location on a GPS and notify the authorities,'' he said.

The group bought the six-bladed, helicopter-type drone for $14,000 from a commercial supplier, using public donations, and has just completed a training program. Deployment will begin next week, with several farms and businesses earmarked for surveillance.

Farmers were dubious about being watched by drones.

''Many people in rural communities would see this as another attack on their peace of mind and an invasion of their privacy,'' said president of the NSW Farmers Association Fiona Simson.

She said farmers recognised that safe food meant healthy and happy animals. ''NSW Farmers does not condone any acts of animal cruelty and farmers are committed to high animal welfare standards,'' Ms Simson said.

Mr Pearson said the drone would not just be used to gather evidence of illegal cruelty, but would also film some routine, legal farm practices that might upset non-farmers. ''We're not interested in what farmers may be doing in their daily activities, and I completely respect people's privacy,'' he said.

''But there are lots of cases where farming activities cause horrible distress to animals - mulesing being a common example. People are entitled to know and see what's going on. So, even if it is lawful, if we think the public is going to be outraged or if we think they need to be informed, we will show it.''

This month Animal Liberation exposed horrific acts of cruelty at an Ingham turkey farm in Sydney, after anonymous footage was handed to the group showing turkeys being bashed and trodden on.

Australian Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim has said ''the potentially intrusive nature of the technology'' meant there should be a public debate about existing regulations.

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31/03/2013 7:48:05 AM

Is it legal for me to get my hands on a surface to air missile?
31/03/2013 8:09:25 AM

I'm sorry farmers but I can't stand to see the helpless suffer and that includes animals and little children. It should always be a fair go in a fight in Australia. I'm not a city girl either I live on the Mid-north coast of NSW.
31/03/2013 8:47:28 AM

Well if I see it in my air space it will get shot down,as an alien intruder.Be warned.
watching you back
31/03/2013 8:55:43 AM

No doubt ,public liability will become an issue if stock are spooked by a drone over handling facilities.Will animals australia then be charged for any resultant welfare issues?
I hate greens
31/03/2013 8:56:28 AM

Love to see the look on their faces through the monitor when their drone cops a couple of 12 gauge blasts.Would they get a fine from the EPA for littering?when it falls in your paddock?
Will from Bordertown
31/03/2013 9:00:07 AM

Hmmmmmm ........target practice anyone?
31/03/2013 9:21:49 AM

Lets get one thing straight. The animal rights movement is the Australian governmnet. This is the yet another step towards the police state.
X Ag Socialist
31/03/2013 9:26:24 AM

How hard is it to shoot down a drone?
31/03/2013 9:36:31 AM

What these environmentalists are planning to do is tantamount to policing. Before police can enter private property they have to get a search warrant so maybe the same rules should apply to environmentalists.
31/03/2013 9:48:28 AM

I have two points that I would like to make here........... 1. I believe it is incredibly wrong that anyone filming footage of cruelty can choose to sit on this footage and knowing allow more cruelty to occur. The Ingham turkeys is a prime example. As far as I am concerned the person filming has an obligation to report this cruelty ASAP or become a party to the cruelty 2. What many do not appreciate is that while farms are businesses they are also in many cases a family home. It should entitle farmers to a little privacy as the vast majority are doing the right thing.
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