article / 18 November 2020

Conservation Technology User Guidelines Issue 5: Drones

The latest issue of WWF's Conservation Technology Series is about drones and is designed for a broad audience of conservationists. Containing ten case studies, scientific literature, and handy information on getting started with drones and what to consider in your studies and practices, this issue is an excellent resource for anyone interested in how drones are evolving into a usable conservation tool. Download the issue here. Header photo: A group of wild Sumatran elephants are tracked via drone in the community plantation in Musarapakat, Aceh, Indonesia. © Mahmud Yani/WWF-Indonesia

The latest issue of WWF's Conservation Technology Series is all about drones. What they are, how they have evolved, and how to use them safely for conservation science and research. We have compiled all the latest information for you in one beautiful report.

"We are really excited to see this report come to light! Drone research has matured in the past decade, and they are becoming more enmeshed in conservation practices. It is really important that conservationists have a simple reference point from which to embark on drone surveys, and we hope that our guide will become the handbook for such practitioners. We are particularly pleased that so many conservation and environmental scientists were willing to share their insights and expertise for this report, bringing their subjects to life." 

- Dr. James Duffy and Dr. Karen Anderson, lead authors, Environment and Sustainability Insitute, University of Exeter DroneLab

About This Issue

This detailed handbook is designed for a broad non-academic audience of conservation practitioners, to help the conservation community understand the benefits, opportunities, and limits of drone technology.

The possibilities for using drones effectively as a conservation tool are enormous, but this technology is not without its barriers and regulations that vary from region to region, making drone use uniquely difficult to navigate as a beginner. In this guide, you'll find scientific literature and ten case studies (five of which are led by women) that will explain how and wheredrones can safely be used to deliver data, and will also explore the key considerations to keep in mind when planning or beginning a drone-based study. 

Above the polar bear. © Drone Awards Photo Of The Year, Florian Ledoux

Best Practices

So you want to fly a drone but don't know where to start? Our report features frequently asked questions to quickly get you on the right track in terms of selecting the right drone for your needs, including the right sensor and software to fit your budget.

We also encourage best practices, particularly around sensitive wildlife and habitats:


Adapted from Hodgson and Koh (2016)

Case Studies

We have compiled the latest and greatest conservation science using drones, including 10 unique case studies (5 of which are led by women) featuring pioneering research on land and over water.

Training Indigenous groups in the Amazon forest to monitor forest fires and deforestation with the help of drones. © Marizilda Cruppe/WWF-UK

Each of these case studies offers key advice for researchers:

  1. Monitoring plant biomass with drone photogrammetry - Dr. Andrew Cunliffe, University of Exeter
  2. Using drones to collect whale lung samples - Dr. Vanessa Pirotta, Macquarie University
  3. Empowering traditional communities and front-line staff to use drones for conservation - Felipe Spina Avino, WWF-Brazil
  4. UAS4Ecology: Drones for ecological research - Dr. Urs A. Trier & Dr. Signe Norman, Aarhus University
  5. Mapping habitats of the Great Barrier Reef - Dr. Karen Joyce, James Cook University
  6. Surveying river dolphins in the Amazon - Marcelo Oliveira, WWF-Brazil
  7. Assessing mangroves in the Rufiji Delta, Tanzania - Aurélie Shapiro, WWF-Germany
  8. Bear Cubs: your lunch is in the air - Leonardo Bereczky and Alexandra Dumitrescu, WWF-Romania
  9. Drones, sound, and animals - Dr. Laura Kloepper, Notre Dame
  10.  Local-scale impacts of boat anchorage on seagrass meadows - Dimitris Poursanidis, Foundation for Research and Technology, Hellas, Greece

Download the Issue Now

Download the full report and learn more about its authors here, and find more resources from this project team here.


Download all the Guidelines

satellite remote sensing guidelines cover  LiDAR  guidelines cover  Acoustic guidelines cover  Camera trap guidelines cover

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