Thursday 22 March 2018

Knee injury setback for 'human swan' conservationist

Sacha Dench is flying with the birds using just a parachute wing and a small propeller engine
Sacha Dench is flying with the birds using just a parachute wing and a small propeller engine

A conservationist who is using a paramotor to follow Bewick's swans as they migrate 4,500 miles to the UK has dislocated her kneecap while taking to the air.

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

Her 10-week journey aims to uncover new science about why numbers of the Bewick's swans journeying back to overwinter in the UK has halved. She also hopes to highlight their plight and engage with communities along their migration route.

She was trying to take off, a process which requires running until the parachute wing is up in the air, when she stumbled on uneven ground in a field east of St Petersburg, in western Russia.

After a day's rest she tried to take off again but the knee was not strong enough. A scan in St Petersburg confirmed she had temporarily dislocated her kneecap.

She still cannot run to take off, so the paramotor will be adapted with wheels to enable her to take to the air without putting pressure on her knee, the WWT said.

Ms Dench said: "It was incredibly painful for a couple of minutes.

"My screams of pain were obviously heard quite some way away because, in true Russian style, an elderly couple suddenly appeared from the forest nearby and filled my pockets with cranberries that they'd picked 'as they are good for the health and healing', and they wished me success on my travels.

"Unfortunately, the cranberries didn't work quickly enough for me to get back in the air on Monday and I've had to go for an MRI scan.

"The prognosis is as good as can be. I've not broken anything and I should be able to adapt the paramotor so that I'm on my way again very soon."

Ms Dench said she was still in the midst of the Bewick's swan migration and was looking forward to catching up with flocks of the birds at wetlands near St Petersburg and further down the flyway.

Press Association

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