London

'Why I'm using a drone to stop Heathrow flights'

Sylvia Dell
Image caption Sylvia Dell will be flying a drone during the protests

Environmental protesters are trying to use drones to bring flights to a halt at the UK's biggest airport, Heathrow, from Friday. Why are they taking this drastic step, and who will it affect?

"I find the whole prospect of potentially going to prison terrifying," Sylvia Dell tells the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, regarding the threat she could soon face.

"But this issue is too important."

Ms Dell says she has already been arrested for taking part in previous climate change protests.

Now the retiree intends to fly a lightweight, toy drone within the three-mile (5km) no-fly zone surrounding Heathrow Airport, in a protest known as Heathrow Pause.

The aim is to bring attention to the environmental damage the planned third Heathrow runway could cause.

Ms Dell describes its construction as "sheer lunacy".

She decided to take action when one of her sons, aged 27, explained how angry he was that previous generations had done little to tackle global warming, and she remains resolute in her view that what she describes as "civil disobedience" can bring about change.

'Criminal activity'

The protests began on 13 September, but could stretch further.

Heathrow Pause said the airport would be given an hour's notice before all of the drone flights, which are planned at regular intervals to ensure "no aircraft flights will take place".

The Met Police has said it will "do everything in its power to stop and prevent any such criminal activity" and that the consequences of flying the drones are "potentially very severe".

But Ms Dell disputes this, saying she believes it is "perfectly safe" to fly the toy drones at head height, as planned, although she has no formal experience of piloting one.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Heathrow Pause said the drones would not be flown on flight paths

Heathrow Airport has described the campaigners' plans in a statement as "criminal and counterproductive".

"We agree with the need to act on climate change", it said, adding: "This is a global issue that requires constructive engagement and action."

Ms Dell has said previous meetings with the Heathrow Aviation Authority, in her view, have proved ineffective.

She now wants the government to listen and take action - something she hopes these protests will achieve.

Arrests over Heathrow Airport drone protests

The Heathrow Pause organisers say the protests have been timed to disrupt mostly frequent flyers and those flying for business reasons.

But for some it may prove a step too far.

Despite sharing many of the same coordinators, the Extinction Rebellion group - from which Heathrow Pause is an offshoot - has said it is not backing the demonstration - although it does not condemn it.

It said in a statement: "It is clear that people in the movement have had different views around this proposed action and that tension has arisen from figuring out the most effective way to tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency we face."

Image caption Mussirah Moossun believes the protests will undermine the group's message

One holiday-maker, Mussirah Moossun, told the BBC the actions of the campaigners were "selfish".

She is due to fly to Turkey to go on holiday with her mother, who has recently been ill.

"It feels like disrupting people in this way is a really negative way of making a point," she said.

"I do understand people are really passionate about their cause, but some people have to travel for really serious reasons."

Ms Moossun believes the protests "will annoy people more than it will make them understand the message".

"It will cause frustration when you want people to be positive about your cause," she added.

"I think the fact that Extinction Rebellion have distanced themselves from the protest really means they need to re-examine their tactics."

Image caption Morgan Perry fears a loss of earnings if the protests disrupt his flight

Morgan Perry, from Cardiff, also faces disruption.

He works for a tech firm and was due to fly back to Heathrow from San Francisco on Friday. Being unable to would mean missing work, and a loss of earnings.

He said he cares about protecting the environment, but has little alternative but to fly to get to places like the US.

"I've seen the protests from similar groups over the summer and I understand what the protest is trying to do, but from what I can see it doesn't lead to much change," he explained.

"These groups need to lobby corporations and governments instead."

Image caption Jonathan Fishwick is taking part because he believes the planet is in "deep, deep trouble"

Jonathan Fishwick, a window cleaner by trade, is set to fly a drone in the protests. He said he understood the group's actions may seem unnecessarily disruptive to some.

But he believes strongly in the need "to do what I think is right, and not what is popular".

"Our planet is heating up so fast that we won't be able to grow enough food - and history tells us when the food system collapses, society collapses," he said.

"For me personally this is about my conscience. It's so important for me to get the message out that we are in deep, deep trouble."

Both he and Ms Dell said they were fully aware they could go to prison for taking part. Both said they found that prospect "terrifying".

But for Ms Dell the risk has made her more determined.

"We're the fire alarm waking the public up [to the danger]," she said.

"If we get sent to prison, then what sort of world are we truly inhabiting?"

Follow the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on Facebook and Twitter - and see more of our stories here.

More on this story