Westonbirt, through the eyes of an Octocopter!

Posted: September 3, 2013 at 12:47 pm Author: Susanna Byers

As the construction of the new Welcome Building gets fully underway, our mission to produce an exciting new interpretation space continues!

My role here as Interpretation Support Officer means that I get to dig deep into what Westonbirt is really about: finding out about it’s historical development, how the site is intricately managed, how important trees are to our world and how Westonbirt itself provides a significant scientific resource for people the world over.

The information I have found out during my short time here is incredible; Westonbirt is so much more than a beautiful walk around some nice trees – when you walk around think about how the trees got here, where are they native to, why they are here and how they have been managed to grow so magnificently.

Within the new Welcome Building will be a room dedicated to bring you this information. It’s a big job, but one that I am thoroughly enjoying as we explore how a site such as Westonbirt can tell it’s story in innovative and engaging ways.

Coinciding with the beginnings of the building itself, has been the start of the next phase in creating this interpretation room: collecting the content. If you’ve been at Westonbirt recently you may have heard a noise that resembled an alarmingly large swarm of mosquitoes. The sound was in fact what is called an Octocopter, an 8 ‘legged’ remote control high definition camera.


The idea started as thinking of an interesting way to tell the story of the Holfords rides on horse and carriage through the arboretum. We thought one way of doing this would be to show people a view which they may not have seen before: from height! We took shots of the routes the Holfords would have taken, and filmed a multitude of historic and iconic Westonbirt areas including flying at canopy height down Jackson Avenue; flying low through the branches of the shelter belt off Circular Drive; and soaring high above the Downs taking in a 360 degree view of the whole site.

The camera can fly up to 400m in the air, and is manoeuvrable in any direction as long as it stays within eye line of the operator. With one person remotely operating the mini helicopter-like machine itself, another operates the camera; using a wireless monitor to see whether to pan left and right or up and down. As many a visitor pointed out as they passed the film crew, it rather resembles some sort of UFO…

Octocopter on Broad Drive

Although it may seem an easy thing to set up and shoot with the octocopter, the process involved is complex. Once the camera is rigged up, the batteries have to be connected; batteries so powerful that it makes a huge crack sound as the leads attach. The shots are discussed at length, as the operators need to know exactly where they are going before take off: a machine this powerful takes up a lot of battery life in a short amount of time. Finally, before lift off, we wait for it to pick up satellite signal – it records where it is in case something goes wrong, so it can land itself back in the spot it started! A very clever piece of kit, especially as it manages to pick up a signal amongst the trees here!

Octocopter wireless monitor

The footage will form part of an introductory short film which highlights the historical development of the Westonbirt Landscape, showing a side to the arboretum which we wouldn’t normally be able to see.


For more details on The Westonbirt Project please visit our project webpages