Skip to main content

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Eye in the Sky: drones at Salisbury Plain

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Public Access, Salisbury Plain Training Area
A Training Safety Marshal, wearing camoflage uniform and a high-vis vest, stands in front of a vehicle marked Training Safety. In his hands he holds a controller and near to the camera is a drone, with horizontal propellers on either side. The drone is in focus with the Training Safety Marshal, vehicle and background slightly out of focus.
One of the Training Safety Marshals operating one of the drones. [Crown Copyright / MOD 2020]

Next time you visit Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) you may notice some Unidentified Flying Objects. Don’t be alarmed, they’re just our new drones.  

The Training Safety Marshals (TSMs) recently took delivery of ten DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise drones, more properly known as Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), for use on the training area. They can be used in a number of ways to help us in our duties to maintain a “Safe Place” for the Armed Forces to train.  

All of the operators, currently nine, undertook five days training at the Surveillance Target Acquisition branch in Larkhill and obtained the Class 1b UAS qualification prior to being issued with the drones.  

The air space above SPTA is a very busy MOD Air Danger Area, which means there is a process to be followed prior to the drone being deployed so that the air space remains safe for those authorised to be there. This requirement means use of drones by the public in the SPTA air space is strictly prohibited, even when there might not appear to be aircraft in the area. 

Use of the drones 

Five of the drones are equipped with a zoom camera and five have a dual set up which also includes a thermal camera.  

Although they have only been in use for a few months, they have already proven their worth. Much of SPTA is accessible to the public at certain times as long as the byelaws are being followed, however, we frequently come across people who are not following the rules; sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately.  

Our TSMs have used the drones to capture footage of illegal motorbike activity on numerous occasions; in most cases the bikes have dispersed once the drone is spotted by the riders. Two vans were seized after a drone was used to monitor vans being used to transport illegal bikes to the area. The Ministry of Defence Police (MDP) and Wiltshire Police waited until the drone’s camera showed the riders returning to the vans before moving in.  

A dismounted motorbike rider waves at the camera above him. Behind him is his motorbike, just off the side of a track.
A motorbike rider waves at one of the drones. [Crown Copyright / MOD 2020]

When members of the public are in out-of-bounds areas, the loudspeaker on the drones has been used to let people know they are somewhere they shouldn’t be. The team also used a drone to record evidence of a campsite, hidden from view on Sidbury Hill. The drone was able to direct a member of the Ministry of Defence Police to the tent who then issued two tickets for offences in breach of COVID-19 rules.   

Footage from the drone was clear enough to record the number plates of two 4x4 vehicles driving illegally in the Cross Country Driving Area and capture evidence.    

An aerial view from the drone of MOD Police officers talking to the drivers of two parked 4x4 vehicles.
MOD Police officers talking to the drivers of two 4x4s. [Crown Copyright / MOD 2020]

A number of times, drones have been deployed to watch authorised personnel, whether TSMs or MDP officers, when dealing with members of the public as an added layer of safety. With a range of up to five miles and able to reach 45mph at maximum speed, the drones have already proved themselves extremely valuable to our team on Salisbury Plain, both for providing guidance to those who may have inadvertently strayed into out-of-bounds areas and for deterring and recording illegal activity.  

What’s next? 

The success of the use of the drones so far means we plan is to make sure that all SPTA staff who deploy on the ground are trained in their use. The intent is to roll this out to other regions who will use them in a similar manner and no doubt achieve the same results.  

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Peter Wright posted on

    Why are the DIO being so obstinate over Ash Ranges. They have closed off the most popular part and have given no logical reason why . At first it was Covid 19,this was denied, it was then vandalism. Since anyone who is able to can climb the gates this has done nothing to curb vandalism, in fact may have encouraged it by virtue of the fact that there are less people around to see what they are up to. Then it became safety, quite how locking people out on none firing days makes the ranges safer is baffling. They say that they don't want to upset the local community but that is exactly what they have done. They have also kept out anyone with mobility issues as two of the gates ,which are now lock , are for disabled access .So this action has done nothing to stop vandalism, nothing to improve safety, has upset the local population denied access to the disabled. So what is the real reason for this?

    • Replies to Peter Wright>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      The technical areas (approximately 12%) of the Ash Ranges training area have been closed permanently to protect them. This is due to safety concerns for the general public accessing a live firing range, even on non-firing days, and to prevent vandalism to these facilities. Training and safety requirements must take precedence on the Defence Estate.

      Concerns about securing the complex are not solely restricted to criminality and cost. The MOD has a duty of care to members of the public who use the land for leisure as we do to our troops.

      The technical areas are already clearly demarcated and hard to access without using the gates. No new fences will be erected that restrict access by the public. The remaining 88 per cent (3,500 acres) of Ash Ranges is available for public access unless live firing is taking place, or the areas are being used for military training. There is no intention whatsoever to prevent ongoing access to Ash Range Danger Area.

      • Replies to DIO Communications Team>

        Comment by Paul Robertson posted on

        What's drone pilot got to do with vandalism if any thing you should be setting up a club for flyers that will keep the vandals away and keep drones where you want them you are going about this the wrong way. Shutting off land is not the answer

  2. Comment by Gareth Davies posted on

    Why does one of your Training Safety Marshals keep ignoring the C22 OOB signs/rule? And why does he hoot his horn outside my house?

  3. Comment by Jimmy Riddle posted on

    With a range of 5 miles I’d hope the military police are equipped with some super spectacles to allow them to adhere to the rule that the drone must be kept within visual line of sight (VLOS)?

  4. Comment by David Drew posted on

    SPTA and Imber are open for visitors from 26th - 30th August, as a drone owner I would like to seek permission to get some aerial footage of Imber.

    I fly a sub 250g drone (DJI Mini 2), have an operator and flyer ID and insurance (both for the drone and public liability. So I am conforming to all current drone laws.

    Who would I need to talk to, to request permission please?

    • Replies to David Drew>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi David, thanks for your question. Unfortunately the public are not allowed to use drones anywhere on Salisbury Plain Training Area at any time.

      • Replies to DIO Communications Team>

        Comment by Steve Aley posted on

        It would be great if this could be reviewed, it is a vast area that could easily be sectioned off and communicated via NOTAM or other means to let recreational users know where they can operate and when.

        Most of which have sat through extensive training, probably the same training as your operators, and have insurance to boot.

        I 100% agree that access should be constrained but a blanket ban is just sad.

        Out of interest, who would I need to speak to regarding the danger area at Porton Down? It is close to Figsbury Ring, a place I would like to photograph.

  5. Comment by Dougie Monk posted on

    Great use of this technology, but aren’t DJI products prohibited for use on MOD sites or has that restriction been lifted? Thanks.

  6. Comment by Vince posted on

    Hi, Does the ban on public drone flying extend to the edge of the airspace danger area or is it just over where land based activities are conducted?

    • Replies to Vince>

      Comment by DIO Communications Team posted on

      Hi Vince

      Thanks for checking and sorry for the very delayed reply! There is a blanket ban on the use of privately owned drones (Unmanned Air Systems) in the SPTA Air Danger Area (ADA). The ADA extends beyond the ground danger area.

  7. Comment by Andy Richardson posted on

    Hi, we have just purchased a new house in the new Lovell Development at Drummond Park, Ludgershall. This used to be MOD land and is adjacent to SPTA behind the Wellington Academy. Our roofer wants to fly his work drone above our property (not on any MOD Land) to check the roof but gets a warning message stating "Aircraft in Authorisation Zone" Please could you help me obtain permission to fly a drone above my property for a short period to check the roof? Thank you


Leave a comment

We only ask for your email address so we know you're a real person

By submitting a comment you understand it may be published on this public website. Please read our privacy notice to see how the GOV.UK blogging platform handles your information.