Can You Fly a Drone in Epping Forest?
As one of the most renowned outdoor attractions in the greater London area, Epping Forest might be on your must-see list as well.
You’re quite interested in capturing its picturesque peaks and insulated forest walls with your drone, but is it legal?
Epping Forest is typically a no-fly zone, but members of the Chingford Model Flying Club who have a permit are allowed access into the forest with their drones in designated areas only. You also need proof of membership as well as your Flyer ID on your person.
Ahead, we’ll talk further about the Chingford Model Flying Club as well as the requisite licensure and documentation you need to fly a drone in Epping Forest.
Make sure you keep reading!
Are you allowed to fly a drone in Epping Forest?
Epping Forest in Essex and Greater London, UK spans 5,900 acres. Much of the land is comprised of ancient woods with some areas of established habitats such as ponds, bogs, streams, heaths, and grassland.
The forest makes an excellent backdrop for leisure activities such as horseback riding, cycling, and rambling, but what about flying a drone?
Epping Forest is traditionally a no-fly zone for all drone pilots. Like many drone rules, there are exceptions.
In this case, if you’re a member of the Chingford Model Flying Club, then you’re allowed to fly your drone in designated locations in Epping Forest in the area by Chingford Plain. Only members can do this though.
What is the Chingford MFC?
The Chingford Model Flying Club or MFC for short is named after Chingford, an east London town that borders Epping Forest. The club was established in 1936 and welcomes drone pilots of all ages and experience levels.
How do you join the Chingford MFC?
Like any club, you can’t simply become a member of the Chingford MFC. There’s a formal application process to follow.
First, you have to fill out the club’s membership application. Once you send the application in, it must be processed.
Even then, you’re not automatically approved or denied. The members of the Chingford MFC will want to meet with you in person to talk about your interest and level of experience flying drones.
You’ll also be asked to participate in several flight sessions, usually at least three, but it could be fewer.
If the Chingford MFC feels like you’ll be a good fit, then you’ll be invited into the club. If they don’t, then you won’t be invited.
As a new member, you’re under a probationary period for the next year from the time you were asked to join.
If you don’t have an ‘A’ certificate through the British Model Flying Association or BMFA, you’ll have to be supervised during your drone flights with the Chingford MFC.
That’s also the case for children who are under 18 at the time of joining.
You have to pay a membership fee for each year you actively maintain your participation with the Chingford MFC.
If you include a membership to the BMFA as part of your Chingford MFC membership, then adults will pay £105 or $129 a year. You’ll also have to pay a separate Operator ID fee.
A junior member under 18 must pay £35 or $43 for their dual membership or £25 or $30 for the Operator ID fee.
By eschewing the membership to BIFMA, adults pay £65 or $80 per year with the Operator ID fee included or £55 or $68 without that fee.
Juniors pay £15 or $19 with the Operator ID fee or £5 or $6 without it.
What else do you need to fly a drone in Epping Forest?
According to the Chingford MC website, “Members should carry their membership card and Epping Forest Permit with them in case of any request to verify their right to fly.”
The membership in question refers to your Chingford MC membership, which will be issued to you at the time that you’re approved to join.
As for the Epping Forest Permit, the only information we were able to find about permits and the forest was related to the Epping Forest District permit.
That permit is for parking around Epping Forest and is provided by Parking Partnership in conjunction with the Epping Forest District Council.
The annual resident permits include a first permit for 12 months that costs £55 or $68 or a second permit for 12 months that’s £85 or $105.
For visitors who don’t live in the UK, you can get 10 stays for six hours for £11.50 or $7.37 or 10 stays for 24 hours for £6 or $14.13.
A carers permit for 12 months costs £30 or $37, a traders permit for 12 months is £230 or $283, and business permits are variously priced.
UK flight rules ahead of your trip to Epping Forest
Even if you are a member of the Chingford MFC, between that club and the overarching rules of the Civil Aviation Authority or CAA (which regulates and oversees all drone flights in the UK), you’re beholden to these rules.
You need both a Flyer ID and an Operator ID to fly in the UK
Drone pilots in the UK must have an Operator ID and a Flyer ID before launching a UAV into the skies.
An Operator ID belongs to an organization or person who uses a drone whereas the Flyer ID is issued to you by the CAA after you pass a drone proficiency test.
It’s the equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 license.
According to the CAA, many aspiring UK drone pilots will apply for both their Operator ID and Flyer ID concurrently.
You might have to register your drone
According to this page on the CAA’s website, if your drone is in the C0 class or weighs less than 250 grams, you have to register it.
That also applies to a drone that weighs less than 250 grams and has no class mark or no camera (not limited to toy drones) and a C0 class drone that has no camera (also not limited to toy drones).
A C0 drone can include a toy drone that doesn’t require an Operator ID, a drone without a camera that’s not a toy and doesn’t require an Operator ID, or a drone with a camera that’s not a toy that does require an Operator ID.
You’re only allowed to fly within the flying boundary as a Chingford MFC member
Chingford MFC members may be granted special permissions (such as access to Epping Forest), but even they have flying boundaries.
You must stay within the fixed-wing strip of the designated area within Chingford Plain.
You can only fly during daylight hours
Chingford MFC also has strict rules about when its members can operate their drones within the boundaries.
You’re allowed to fly during the week from 10:30 a.m. until sunset but not after dark.
You must obey restricted airspace laws
The UK has plenty of restricted airspace, some of which is always designated that way and some of which may change at various points.
For instance, you’re always forbidden from flying in or around government buildings, royal palaces, military ranges, and prisons.
Your drone will not be allowed to fly during festivals, political conferences, airshows, and other events, even in areas where you’re usually designated.
During emergency incidents like floods, fires, and car accidents, your drone will similarly be temporarily outlawed.
You’re also usually prohibited from flying around tall structures, Sites of Special Scientific Interest or SSSIs, and around other aircraft.
You cannot fly near aircraft or airports
Aircraft, spaceports, airfields, and airports in the UK usually are designated as flight restriction zones or FRZs.
You must have permission to access these areas, as endangering aircraft safety can lead to a prison term of five years in the UK!
You must keep your distance from industrial, commercial, recreational, and residential areas
Besides your limitations of flying around airports, you’re also limited to a max distance of 150 meters or approximately 492.1 feet from industrial, commercial, recreational, and residential areas with your drone.
The CAA states that industrial areas are transport and rail hubs, docks, and factories. Examples of commercial areas are business parks, warehouses, and shopping centers.
Recreational areas are everything from theme parks to parks, beaches, sports facilities, and tourist attractions.
You’re also not allowed to fly your drone near schools, housing estates, villages, towns, and cities, all of which constitute residential areas.
You cannot fly too close to people
The CAA defines a crowd as “any group of people who cannot move away quickly because of the number of people around them.”
Regardless of your drone class or weight, you’re not supposed to fly your drone over a crowd, be that during a carnival or party, crowded park or beach, rally or march, music concert or festival, political or religious gathering, sports event, or shopping area.
As for individual people, the limit is 50 meters of horizontal distance or 164 feet between your drone and other people. The no-fly zone here ascends to the UK’s legal height limit.
While people are in this no-fly zone, you are not permitted to fly over them.
The exception to the rule is if people are involved with your drone flight, like family or friends.
While you can get closer than 50 meters to these people, you should still always be respectful and avoid the potential for harm.
You have to stay away from cliffs, mountains, and/or hills
In any areas where you may come across cliffs, mountains, or hills, then your drone must stay within a 400-foot or 120-meter radius from, as the CAA says, “the closest point of the earth’s surface.”
You have to fly under 400 feet
In all other circumstances when flying your drone, you’re required to only fly it at a height of 400 feet.
Epping Forest in London is a famed and beloved forested region where drones are usually not permitted. The only exception is for members of the Chingford MC, who are allowed to fly in a specific and designated part of the forest.
Joining Chingford MC isn’t as easy as applying and hoping you get picked. You need to meet with the members, fly with them a few times, and pay the membership fee as well.
If you do find yourself granted permission to fly in Epping Forest, always follow the CAA’s guidelines!