The use of remote aerial photography to aid in land management has delivered two awards for Local Government Excellence in the Environment to Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council.
The council uses a drone to identify and map weeds from overhead, as well as for high-resolution aerial photography to generate a mosaic of images, a system that produces far greater detail than satellite images.
The council’s environmental services coordinator Simon Holloway said it was effective to identify larger plants such as scotch broom and blackberry.
“An experienced weed officer can [also] distinguish between smaller plants, such as serrated tussock compared to other native tussock species,” Mr Holloway said.
The drone had mapped weeds on council and public lands. An aerial photo of Captains Flat Cemetery had “really helped in discussions with state agencies and community representatives on the management of heritage and environmental values at that site”.
The council’s staff had started researching these tools five years ago in a bid to improve weed inspection efficiency, effectiveness and safety. “At the time, it was clear that the limited commercial products available were too expensive for the council so, in their spare time, [staff] built their own and obtained personal remote pilot licences.”
In early 2015, budget savings were allocated to buy a low-cost survey drone and Queanbeyan-Palerang became the first council to become a Civil Aviation Safety Authority-certified remote pilot aircraft operator.
The council’s administrator, Tim Overall, called the awards-win “a tremendous achievement” for Queanbeyan-Palerang and its staff.
“I commend the staff for their continued efforts to ensure the council is an efficient and innovative organisation,” he said.
“The use of this technology to effectively monitor and identify invasive species over large areas is quite brilliant.”
The drone can also be used for compliance issues, flying over private land where a property owner may not have complied with legislative obligations. Any information acquired will be managed confidentially.
“We expect some privacy concerns from landholders once the council starts flying over private land,” Mr Holloway said. “The council will advise landholders in advance of the purpose of any flights and how the aerial photos will be used.”
Mr Holloway called the latter use an “environmental health check” for property owners. “If any major … risks are detected, such as priority weeds or failing septic systems, then advice will be provided to the landholders to resolve the risk and protect the local community.”
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