Thursday 29 September 2016

Conservationist Sacha Dench takes to skies for 4,500-mile migration of swans

Published 19/09/2016 | 14:11

Sacha Dench has started her 10-week journey from the Pechora Delta on the north coast of Russia (The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/PA)
Sacha Dench has started her 10-week journey from the Pechora Delta on the north coast of Russia (The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust/PA)

A sportswoman and conservationist has taken to the air on a trip to follow a 4,500-mile migration of Bewick's swans from Russia to the UK.

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Former free-diving champion Sacha Dench is flying with the birds using just a parachute wing and a small propeller engine from the Arctic tundra to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) nature reserve at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

The dramatic journey by paramotor will take her over hundreds of miles of desolate Arctic tundra, to unvisited wetlands and through landscapes where she will have to navigate wind farms and tall buildings.

A light tailwind gave Ms Dench, who works for the WWT, the ideal conditions to start her 10-week journey from the Pechora Delta on the north coast of Russia.

Her Flight of the Swans expedition, which aims to uncover new science about the declining species, highlight their plight and engage communities along their migration route, has won backing from celebrities, businesses, charities and individuals.

In the past two decades the number of Bewick's swans making the journey back to overwinter in the UK has halved, and while researchers have identified several dangers the birds face, the exact reasons for the declines are unknown.

Ms Dench said: " I'm so excited to finally be off. I've been planning this expedition for two years. It's going to be a real adventure.

"I love flying and I'm fascinated by wildlife. I'm filming the whole trip and I can't wait to share my swan's eye view with the world.

"But my biggest hope is that we better understand what is going wrong for the Bewick's swans.

"They each first make this long journey at just a few months old, and they return here to their birthplace every summer for the rest of their lives. It's an extraordinary lifestyle, but sadly fewer and fewer are surviving."

She added: " We're doing all we can as conservationists to get to the bottom of this problem, but it's not happening fast enough for the swans, so it's time to get on the road and in the air, to see the places and meet the people that might hold the key to this mystery."

:: Ms Dench's progress is being tracked by satellite at www.flightoftheswans.org and she will be broadcasting twice-weekly video diaries, detailing her progress and encounters with swans and people on the way.

Press Association

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