Severn Trent drones team spotting leaks from the sky with flying machines 

10th January 2024

A Severn Trent drones team is helping detect leaks earlier from the skies using the latest technology to help customers – and wildlife.

Pilots Duncan Turner and Jonny Bevan operate the flying fleet which also photographs and maps company sites like reservoirs and treatment works.

The latest drones are fitted with thermal imaging, which can detect drops in temperature on land below – indicating a below-ground water leak. They are also often used at live leaks to rapidly determine what extra resources or repairs are needed onsite.

Some of the other tasks the drones team is involved in include creating 3D maps of Severn Trent sites, carrying out dam inspections and even taking photos for auction sales of water company owned property.

Drone Lead Duncan helped introduce the machines to Severn Trent. The dad-of-three said: “The company was very supportive of the idea and we quickly saw the value the drones could have on the business in the first year.

“The offset costs of just using drones instead of scaffolding to look at one of our digesters, for instance, creates enormous time and cost savings.  The areas we have used the drones in has continued to grow – and the annual savings continue to remain substantial.”

Severn Trent is committed to reduce leakage by 15% to 2025 and is aiming to halve the amount of water lost through its network by 2045

Drones – which are permitted to fly 400ft above ground level - are playing a part in reaching those ambitions, with the team often called in to help spot leaks or send live or recorded updates to an incident team back at Coventry HQ. The two-man operation means one of the team flies the drones, while the second operates the attached camera.

Duncan, 42, who has worked for Severn Trent for 13 years, said: “In urban areas we can use the drones to map out bursts very quickly and relay back pictures and video to an incident room. They can then make very quick decisions on what equipment needs to be sent.

“The drones can fly above hedgerows and treetops, so you can see for miles quite quickly and cover quite a large distance in no time at all.”

Jonny, 35, and Drone Safety Officer, added: “Trying to identify a leak on a pipeline that is say 6km long may have taken some time for our teams on the ground to find before. But we can reduce that to a few hours with the drones.

“If we can find these leaks faster and deal with them quicker, that make things better for customers.”

The drones – including models called Flyability Elios, Matrice 300 and Inspire 2 - have been used at most Severn Trent sites.

Saxophonist Jonny also joined Severn Trent 13 years ago after leaving university with a technology music degree. He plays in a soul band, called The Bluejaks, at venues across the Midlands. But drones are also a big passion, particularly when helping spot and survey wildlife on Severn Trent land.

The dad-of-two boys added: “I love working with drones. It is almost the perfect job for me because it involves a lot of the techy stuff I enjoyed and learned about at university.

“And there is a real wellness side to flying drones too. You get to enjoy a lot of nature being out and about at some spectacularly beautiful Severn Trent sites.

“And as well as all the things we do at Severn Trent, we have also had the opportunity to work with outside wildlife groups, helping them spot beavers or deer.

“So every day is different.”

Duncan – a keen photographer – agreed and said: “I personally enjoy working with so many great Severn Trent teams and helping them solve any issues with the drones.”

And the future is VERY exciting as drone technology advances apace, including using ground penetrating radar cameras to monitor changes in crop growth, to show potential leaks under the soil.

Duncan added: “Drones technology is rapidly changing and there are some ground-changing ideas being developed.”

So watch this space… and the skies above.