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20 October 2017

Drones! Drones everywhere!!

Kinderdijk is truly picture-perfect: anyone who has ever visited our windmill complex knows that. The sweeping vistas, the stately monumental windmills by the waterside, and the characteristic Old Dutch atmosphere that makes the whole area so picturesque have always been an inspiration for fantastic pictures.

The drawback of photogenic looks

Obviously, the millers of Kinderdijk are used to doing their fair share of posing. In fact, they feature in some many pictures that you could regard them as a unique batch of celebrities. Still, even our own windmill residents have to draw a line in the sand every now and then: in this case, it is a line that runs between new technology and privacy. In recent years, we have seen increasing numbers of drones hovering over and between our mills, piloted by visitors trying to get the most spectacular shots and fly-bys from every possible angle. For those who haven’t seen them yet: drones are tiny devices, capable of flight in this case, that are remotely operated and equipped with miniature cameras. These drones grant pilots new and awesome ways to capture wonderful pictures and videos.

We get the picture

Now, don’t get us wrong – we get the picture: after all, we feature a glorious drone recording on our very own homepage for a reason. The whole thing becomes more bothersome, however, when your privacy is threatened by the constant buzz of drones hovering overhead, pointing cameras directly at your backyard or your bedroom window. In 2016, our millers started keeping track of the number of drones they spotted. By now, the count is way past 200, but you can bet that only a fraction of all flights was actually detected. For our millers at least, this drone issue is getting out of hand.

Natura 2000 is strictly for the birds

Our millers aren’t the only residents to suffer from increasing drone traffic. Kinderdijk World heritage is part of the European Natura 2000 project, partly because of the many special species of birds we get to welcome in our unique polder countryside. This particular protected status in fact makes it plainly illegal to fly any drone here – camera-equipped or not. Still, this special environmental protection seems insufficient to keep our skies clear of these buzzing contraptions.

Always in the picture – even the kindest millers have their limits.

A friendly bunch

Of course, this problem has been addressed before – repeatedly, in fact. No real measures have been taken so far, though. About time for the Kinderdijk mill residents to raise the subject at a municipal council meeting. Miller Peter Paul Klapwijk took the initiative, and received the unanimous support of all the local political parties. Now, here at Kinderdijk, we have known Peter Paul as a convincing character all along, but his arguments were pretty solid of themselves. Again: our millers are a very friendly bunch – and living at a UNESCO World Heritage Site automatically turns them into a bit of ‘public property’ to a certain extent. Nonetheless, the constant possibility of being captured on film or photo starts to affect your spontaneous behaviour eventually. Letting your children play outside in their inflatable pool becomes a different decision, as does a thorough and private cleanout of your nostrils, for instance. Privacy is an important matter: even more so when you live and work in a monumental windmill. Obviously, most drone pilots understand it whenever millers ask them to stop: they would find it pretty annoying to be filmed at home, too. Ideally, however, millers shouldn’t have to keep starting the same conversations over and over again. Even the most courteous professional runs out of patience at some point.droog te malen dus!

Searching for solutions

Local authorities have reserved four months to come up with a fitting solution. That may sound like a long time, but this is a complex matter to tackle. Local prohibitions may be a useful tool in normal situations, but how do you communicate them to a busload of Chinese tourists all set for a quick tour of the area, armed to the teeth with smartphones, cameras, and remote-controlled drones? Even though national authorities are also struggling to get to grips with drone traffic, some legislation is already in force to guide it. Flying is not allowed at all in a fifty-metre radius around windmills, for example. Airfields have been off-limits to drones for a while now. In many places, special permits and clearances are required to fly drones. Whatever measures are proposed, enforcement will probably be the most tricky aspect to deal with. Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from the Dutch National Police Corps (KLPD) here. They recently formed a special team capable of intercepting drones and bringing them down using trained birds of prey. In fact, that would be a great match for the Kinderdijk philosophy: making clever use of the old craft of the falconer to tackle a highly modern problem. In a way, that dovetails nicely with the idea of using an old-fashioned windmill to keep a present-day polder soil dry!

Modern challenges

Whatever the solution turns out to be, we will be joining the millers in keeping a close eye on any developments and measures proposed by the authorities. Hopefully, we will enter the new season with a joint plan to do what we’ve been good at for centuries here: finding a fitting way to employ our great tradition for the challenges of tomorrow!

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