THEY have been used to hunt Osama Bin Laden, shut down the UK’s second busiest airport and also deliver Amazon parcels.

But now drones have been given what might just be their most important ever role... as they are deployed to protect Scottish potatoes.

Scientists are increasingly looking at how the technology – developed for the military and big corporate interests

– could be used to save the planet, or at least its crops and livestock.

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Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) are focusing on how the humble spud, one of the nation’s stable foods, can be watched from the sky as global heating looms.

At the Royal Highland Show this month the SRUC’s Simon Gibson-Poole will talk about how drones can be used to spot diseased potato plants.

He said: “Drones have been in the mainstream news for all the wrong reasons, with flights from Gatwick and Heathrow being delayed due to people flying drones over runways.

“However, drones can be used positively and specifically to aid agriculture and the environment.

“Out of the box, these drones can help speed up field walking due to the bird’s eye view they bring – reducing crop impact in the process; be used to inspect farm infrastructure, such as roofs and silos, that is difficult to get to; help identify the location of field drains; and even to round up livestock or scare geese off by attaching sirens to the drones.”

READ MORE: Police Scotland to buy drones to support helicopter unit

Mr Gibson-Poole is one of several drone experts to speak at the show, which runs from June 20 to 23.

Farmers in New Zealand have been using drones to herd sheep and a study is under way in England to see if this would be ethical and practical in the UK.

The SRUC said the use of drones and satellite-based imagery to support precision agriculture, and improve forecasts of wheat and potato crop yields, would also be highlighted by researchers from the Advanced Technologies for Efficient Crop Management project – a collaboration between SRUC and Edinburgh University.

It is not just farmers who are embracing drone technology. Climate scientists are eager to get into the air to see what effects global warming is having on the landscape. Police Scotland earlier this year confirmed it would use two drones to help hunt for missing persons in the Highlands.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “This state-of-the-art new equipment will help Police Scotland keep communities safe, enhancing their search capabilities for vulnerable people, particularly over wide and challenging terrain.”

The Highland Show is the biggest event bringing together those working in – or studying – the rural economy.

The SRUC said George Caldow, its head of veterinary services, would talk about the early detection of disease risks in livestock, while SRUC researcher Harriet Auty would highlight global threats to the Scottish industry.

Meanwhile, fresh from a TEDx event with Annie Lennox, Laura Young,

who is studying for a Masters degree in Environmental Protection and Management at SRUC, will take part in the Climatarian podcast – one of four podcasts being recorded over the weekend.

“Understanding how our food choices impact the environment will open up a whole door to changing our lifestyles for the better,” she said.

“We can make a big difference through choosing packaging-free options, and discovering what is local and seasonal to us. Cutting your food carbon footprint couldn’t be easier.”

Other podcasts include Farmer Wants A Wife, tackling the issues of women in agriculture; R U OK, which is looking at mental health in rural Scotland; and Rise Of The Machines, discussing the use of technology in farming.

SRUC’s head of agriculture Dave Roberts will join Helen Baxter, from the National Centre for Resilience, and Liveness Banda, from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources, to talk about what farmers in Scotland and Malawi can learn from each other.

Mr Roberts said: “People often think it’s about farmers in Malawi learning from us, but it’s a two-way process.

“What we have already picked up from Malawi are some of their methods of coping with the effects of climate change, which are much more dramatic for them.”