Volunteering on a woodland conservation project can be interesting and as varied as you can imagine. There is always a chance to learn a new skill or mix with people who have expert knowledge and, being part of a project as big as the restoration of Fingle Woods, there are more opportunities than you might expect.
Among the Fingle volunteers are mechanics and carpenters, artists and photographers and ecologists of all sorts. But for expertise in electronic gadgets, local volunteer Tom Williams has a growing portfolio. He spent long nights last summer radio-tracking bats and dormice, he films otters with night vision cameras and, as a hobby, he records birdsong with a directional microphone. His latest venture into new technology is already launched and it involves sharing the skies with the birds of the woods. So far, Tom has built three quadcopters from individual components and a day’s flying at Fingle Woods provided the perfect opportunity for a test flight.
After receiving permission from the Woodland Trust’s Dave Rickwood to film a bird’s eye view of the recently clear-felled larch crop in Hall’s Cleave, Tom checked the weather forecast and informed the Royal Naval Air Service station at Culdrose in Cornwall of his flight plans. With precision and great care, Tom assembled the quadcopter on a forest track with a high definition camera mounted on a rotating gimbal. Checking the battery charge level, testing out the electronics and going through the routine flight safety checks all was set for lift off. With the four motors humming and a puff of dust, the drone lifted gently into the air and cruised across the valley to hover above the recently replanted woodland.
Sending its video signal back to a small video screen Tom could position the quadcopter for the best all round view. With a quick test of the rotating camera the view was stunning, giving the impression of what it would be like to hang in mid-air above the trees. The first camera shot looked directly down the protective tubes the young trees had been planted in – a very unusual feeling for those of us used to standing with our feet firmly on the ground. With a degree of excitement Tom said “that’s a cool shot”, before piloting the craft to another destination where the camera could capture a full 360-degree panorama of the whole valley.
After seven minutes of flying and a low battery signal it was time for the quadcopter to return to ground with a gently controlled landing. Tom was very pleased with the flight explaining that “it’s the first time I’ve actually done some filming for real after all the test flights”. With further flights in the future Tom’s films will show how the vegetation in the valley will change and recover after the larch trees were felled. It’s going to be another fascinating record of the dramatic changes predicted at Fingle Woods.
The video of Tom’s footage will be available soon but, until then, here’s a short video of the action from ground level
by Matt Parkins