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Ambio. 2015 Nov;44 Suppl 4:636-47. doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0714-0.

The social implications of using drones for biodiversity conservation.

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United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 219 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge, CB3 0DL, UK.


Unmanned aerial vehicles, or 'drones', appear to offer a flexible, accurate and affordable solution to some of the technical challenges of nature conservation monitoring and law enforcement. However, little attention has been given to their possible social impacts. In this paper, I review the possible social impacts of using drones for conservation, including on safety, privacy, psychological wellbeing, data security and the wider understanding of conservation problems. I argue that negative social impacts are probable under some circumstances and should be of concern for conservation for two reasons: (1) because conservation should follow good ethical practice; and (2) because negative social impacts could undermine conservation effectiveness in the long term. The paper concludes with a call for empirical research to establish whether the identified social risks of drones occur in reality and how they could be mitigated, and for self-regulation of drone use by the conservation sector to ensure good ethical practice and minimise the risk of unintended consequences.


Biodiversity conservation; Drones; Ethics; Political ecology; Social impacts; UAVs

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