A FLEET of ten drones has been scouring Somerset for leaking pipes during the current cold snap.

Wessex Water has been launching the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) fitted with leak-spotting thermal imaging cameras at dawn.

Led by the company's drone pilot Corinne Riley, the team can detect leaks which may not be visible to the naked eye and ensure they are repaired quickly.

Fully licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority, Ms Riley said: "We go out with the drones at sunrise because it’s easier to spot an underground leak when the ground is at its coldest.

"A leak is normally at a higher temperature, which means it will show up as a warm coloured patch on the thermal imaging camera."

Before taking to the skies, Wessex Water’s drone pilots completed intensive training to ensure they comply with public safety and privacy protection regulations.

As well as thermal imagery, the drones offer a mapping function which allows for detailed ‘before and after’ photos.

Ashlea Lane, Wessex Water’s director of water supply, said: "We’re always looking to improve the way we do things, and using drones allows us to save time, energy and effort and means we can operate more efficiently.

"We have dedicated teams on the hunt for leaks all year round, and we’ll continue to use land-based detection methods and replace ageing water mains on our network.

"But advances in technology can only help us, and we’re convinced that drones will play an increasing role this year and beyond."

Over the last 10 years Wessex Water has invested almost £100 million in renewing supply pipes in the region.

As part of the company’s commitment to cut leakage, it has launched the Doorstep Leak Reward – a £30 reward and free repair service for metered customers who report leaks on their private supply pipes.

A Wessex spokesman said that, while last year’s ‘Beast from the East’ left thousands of people in the UK without water, its customers didn’t suffer the same fate thanks to careful planning, pipe renewal and investment in a new multi-million water supply grid that enables water to be moved around the region during extreme weather.