A SWATHE of countryside near Bournemouth Airport is now off-limits to drone enthusiasts after tougher rules came into force.
The previous 1km no-fly zone has been extended by the government this month to 5km, banning unauthorised owners from piloting the increasingly popular machines across a wide area of countryside around Hurn, near Christchurch.
It includes a wide range of farmland plus open spots accessible to the public such as Sopley Common, Town Common and Parley Common, as well as Barnfield Heath and Week Common.
Although drone-flying is allowed if given permission by the airport or air traffic control, penalties for those breaching the rules range from heavy fines to up to life in prison for anyone convicted of intentionally using the device to cause violence.
A spokesperson for the airport said it did not comment on security issues.
The new rules were welcomed by Neil Mullins, organiser of a Bournemouth drone club, as a deterrent for “idiots who fly drones recklessly”.
Although he added: “The extended no-fly zone around Bournemouth now removes a few flight locations for local flyers, which is not great.
“The problem we currently have is the people who are breaking the law are ruining the hobby for everyone who abides by the law.
“Bad press and tainting the use of drones with a negative perception in the press and public eye.”
The stricter regulations have been brought in ahead of a new drones bill which the government says will give police “significantly increased powers” to deal with illegal drone flyers, including the right to stop and search.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: “All drone users should be aware that flying a drone within 5km of an airport or over 400ft is a serious criminal act, one which could put lives at risk and risks penalties ranging from significant fines to a life sentence.”
Aviation minister Liz Sugg has met leading drone manufacturers to discuss solutions for criminal usage such as an inbuilt “geofencing” function to automatically block operations near airports.
People are urged to report suspicious drone activity to the police or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.