Since the drones came out a few years ago, kite aerial photography lost interest for a few photographers that are just looking for photographic results. I am also looking for results but I need that poetic aspect of doing it with a kite, and as long as there is wind I never have problem with batteries.
Where I live is a place of ancient settlements, I walk the fields of more than 2 thousand years of population change and a rural economy which is an engine of the nation. I am truly lucky to have grown up here and recording this rich landscape is a constant joy to me. For both profit and pleasure I fly a kite over this green and pleasant land as often as wind and sunlight allows. It is a region blessed with a coastline on the shallow sea which separates it from the mainland of Europe. With summer here what could be better than a day on the beach in tune with the wind, reaping a photographic harvest from the sea breeze?
A kite needs wide open space, away from hazard, to gain height. East Anglia is the land of the ‘big sky’, open spaces with wide horizons abound and, sadly, I have found many are subject to bans on kite flying. Since the turn of the century many of the regions open spaces have acquired new legal protection and places where I flew kites as a child are now forbidden skies. Saddest of all is the growing number of beaches where kite flying is now banned.
With the best of intentions the protection of wildlife has made kite flying a prohibited activity under byelaws adopted for the protection of many Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) which are managed on our behalf by a variety of interest groups ranging from unpaid volunteer birdwatchers to full-time naturalists employed by big organisations and trusts.
This map is a composite of the statutory designated land layers from the Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) ‘Magic’ map showing statutory protected sites:
If you fly a kite on a beach shaded on the map you may well be on the wrong side of the law. I’m not kidding: you may think the beach is a public place where photography, dog walking, sea angling and even horse riding are permitted but if it’s in one of the designated areas there is a risk of prosecution. Flying a kite is a prohibited activity in many LNRs and is considered an offence of ‘reckless endangerment of a schedule 1 species’ under the Wildlife & Countryside Act at NNR, SAC, SPA and Ramsar sites.
In North Norfolk almost the entire coast from the Wash to Mundesley is designated by variety of zones all of which restrict kite flying by one of 2 means: either explicitly under byelaw or by interpretation of the ‘reckless endangerment’ clause of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
Following the coast into Suffolk the unrestricted beaches are few and far between too. In total, of the 270km of Norfolk and Suffolk coastline, approximately 163 km are covered by a chain of nature reserves that are protected by laws which effectively prohibit kite flying.
So far I have yet to hear of a family day on the beach being ruined by a kite ban but I suspect the day is not far away: I have been sent packing on a couple of occasions by wildlife protectionists and threatened with the law too.
It is possible to get permission to fly at these sites but it’s very unlikely permission in the spring or summertime is granted. On application I have a single site permit that allows flights in January and February on a ‘one time’ basis subject to review. It’s pretty clear revoking or modifying these these bans is unlikely and any permit to fly is issued with the tightest possible constraint.
None of the agencies involved want to be identified with a ‘kite ban’ as such (the media benchmark for this is still the notorious Taliban 1994 Kabul kite ban) but the reality is that kite flying is a ‘prohibited activity’ on many of our open spaces once they are designated local nature reserves protected by DEFRAs model byelaws. Not all LNRs invoke byelaws and its worth checking to see if they do. The LNR byelaws adopted by local authorities usually follow the DEFRA model :
Annex A Model Byelaw:
‘Within the Reserve the following acts are hereby prohibited except insofar as they may be authorised by a permit issued by the Council in accordance with Byelaw 5, or are necessary to the proper execution of his duty by an officer of the Council or by any person, or servant of any person, employed or authorised by the Council. General Prohibitions:
(xxviii) Flying any kite or model aircraft.’ (p11)
This doesn’t mean all LNRs operate a kite ban, just those that adopt the DEFRA model bylaws. So DEFRA can say they don’t ban kites, it’s the Local Authorities that apply the byelaws that do… …and the local authority say its not their idea to ban kites, it’s down to guidance from DEFRA.
Kite bans are seen by many as a petty killjoy. The wildlife conservation agencies don’t want to be associated with a policy of banning kites but the reaction of site wardens to a kite in the sky is far from positive. The first thing you will be told is that you are breaking the law!
Why all year round bans? Its unclear why these bans are for the full year as the protection of birds from the disturbance of kite flying is probably only needed only at specific times of year- usually the nesting and rearing phase between March and April for most species. If specific species are a concern at a particular location the vulnerable periods (for example migration arrivals and departures) will be known and there will be times when the risk to bird life is negligible. A few LNRs have seasonal bans (North Beach at Aldeburgh for example) but the majority of those adopting the DEFRA byelaws simply prohibit flying at all times.
What’s the risk? In the name of simplicity kite flying of all kinds is lumped in with flying model aircraft so I assume concerns over noise, fast moving airborne objects and perhaps objects falling from the sky are the concern. The role of the byelaw is to reduce disturbance to wildlife to a minimum. Much work (driven by crop protection studies) has been done on how birds react to kites and the results show that birds are disturbed by kites low in the sky.
Who says it’s a ban? On sites protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (NNR, SAC, SSI, SPA, RSPB reserves and Ramsar sites) flying a kite is not prohibited until it is considered an ‘act of endangerment’ by a representative of the designating authority: in these cases the opinion of respective agency is considered to be sufficient evidence for conviction. This means that kites aren’t banned under the Act, they are just illegal if a representative of the designating authority decides it is.
It is an offence under Section 28 P(6) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as incorporated by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000), without reasonable excuse, intentionally or recklessly to destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly to disturb any of those fauna. A person found guilty of any such offence may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or on conviction on indictment to a fine.
The specific disturbance of a bird, its nest, young etc. means that there is no time of year when conviction could not be secured.
On byelaw controlled LNR sites flying a kite is a prohibited activity facing a fine of up to £2000 on prosecution in the magistrates court. There are now more than 1500 LNRs in England. In total they cover about 35,000 ha. of which an unknown number use the DEFA model byelaws to protect them.
Flying a kite on this beach is now prohibited :
I flew my camera here on a walk around the point prior to the establishment of the LNR and one of my KAP shots
There it is, doing the very task it was taken for: heritage engagement. Since the establishment of the Landguard Point LNR such imagery is almost impossible, kite flying is now banned there.
So next time you head for a wide open space to fly your kite remember you may be heading into more trouble than you have prepared for! It is possible to check a location for designation on the Statutory Designations Layer on DEFRAs ‘Magic Map‘
Checking the byelaw status of LNRs is more difficult. If you are lucky the Local Authority website will have the information.