Flight of the Swans

Flight of the Swans

11 March 2016
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

The Ramsar Convention is delighted to team up with  Wildfowl & Wetland Trust (WWT), in launching an awareness raising campaign - Flight of the Swans.

This autumn, Sacha Dench (WWT Head of Content) will fly from the Arctic Russian tundra to Gloucestershire in the UK along the migration route of the iconic Bewick’s swan. She will complete the 4,500 mile journey using a paramotor, just a parachute wing strapped to a small propeller engine.

The Bewick’s swan breeds in Arctic Russia and migrates each year to winter in northwest Europe. Along that 3500-km journey covering 15 countries, it relies upon a network of wetlands for safe haven and upon support from a wide variety of people.

WWT’s expedition aims to inspire communities along the swans’ flyway to track and protect an iconic species in decline. The alarming 40% of the Bewick’s swan population was lost in the last 15 years.

Click on the image to view the video.

Sasha will be travelling at the speed of the swans and facing similar challenges - exposure to weather, limited fuel stores, finding safe sites to land - the journey will truly show a bird’s eye view of the wonders and dangers they experience, crossing borders and cultures.

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WWT’s expedition aims to inspire communities along the swans’ flyway to track and protect an iconic species in decline.

Flight of the Swans will be the stimulus for conservation actions along the flyway:

  • National conservation workshops to address key issues for Bewick’s swans.
  • Local wildlife festivals and celebrations at key wetlands, Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Sites) and Wetland Centres along the flyway to engage local communities.
  • International public support for conservation initiatives about Bewick’s swans and wetlands.

The Expedition

This will be the longest paramotor journey ever undertaken by a woman.  Along with her support crew and local paramotorists, Sacha will cross 11 countries across tundra and stop at numerous wetlands and Ramsar Sites during a 10 week period. The final itinerary and timing is being finalized.

The expedition will leave Russia in September and return to WWT Slimbridge in November as part of our 70th Anniversary celebrations.

The journey will truly show a bird’s eye view of the wonders and dangers for these enigmatic animals, crossing boundaries and cultures.

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Sacha will cross 11 countries across tundra and stop at numerous wetlands and Ramsar Sites

The Route and stops at Ramsar Sites

Sacha and the team will travel through these 11 countries: Russia, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France.

So far the confirmed Ramsar Sites that Sacha will visit on her journey are:

Lubana Wetland Complex Ramsar Site, Latvia 

Time: early October
Event: Public event at the visitor centre on the shores of Lake Lubans, the biggest lake in Latvia, including young naturalists and a local paramotor group
Project partners
: Nature Conservation Agency and its regional administrations

Nemunas Delta Regional Park Ramsar Site, Lithuania

Time: Mid October 2016
Event: Community activities
Project partners:
Birdlife Lithuania, Baltic Environmental Forum, Lithuanian Nature Research Centre

Other confirmed Ramsar Sites are:

Vadehavet (Denmark), Lauwersmeer (NL), het Zwin (Belgium), Welney, which is part of Ouze Washes Ramsar Site and Slimbridge, part of the Severn Estuary Ramsar Site (UK).  

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Sacha will complete the 4,500 mile journey using a paramotor

Live coverage

Sacha and birds alike will be fitted with satellite trackers, to follow their progress online and relay live.  This will give audiences a unique opportunity to study the Bewick’s swans. It will also engage local communities in conserving the species and wetland habitats and bring local and international conservation groups together to find ways to stop the decline in Bewick’s swan numbers.

The Ground Crew

The ground crew will be vital for the support of the expedition, with their vehicles being used as media editing suites, sleeping and cooking quarters, as well as helping with any possible off-road rescues.

The Paramotor

Sacha will be flying the entire 4,500 miles hanging from a parachute wing with a 2-stroke and propeller strapped to her back. She’ll be travelling at the speed of the swans and facing similar issues - exposure to weather, limited fuel stores and finding safe sites to land

Sacha Dench said:

“This expedition is very close to my heart. It’s a chance to learn more about Bewick’s swans and why they’re declining. But just as important, it’s a chance to bring people from very different cultures together because the swans’ fate rests in our hands. We can’t let the Bewick’s swan population’s decline continue for another decade.

“The idea formed as I realised that many of my paramotoring contacts in Europe were also farmers and hunters – two groups that are crucial to the swans’ survival. This adventure seemed the perfect way to spark the interest of people on the ground.

“Wherever you land as a paramotorist, whoever’s nearby is understandably curious to know where you’ve come from and why. I’ll be using that interest to tell people the swans’ story and to invite everyone I meet – from reindeer herders to town planners – to get involved in helping them to survive.

“As we develop the expedition, we’re exploring new research opportunities, from doing an aerial survey of the swans’ breeding grounds to documenting the turbulence from a wind turbine. I hope this endeavour will live up to WWT’s rich history of scientific expeditions that stretches back to Peter Scott exploring Iceland and, ultimately, to his father’s expedition to the South Pole.”

Sacha Dench and WWT are working closely with government officials, NGOs and the media in all 11 countries in order to make the most of the opportunity provided by the Flight of the Swans expedition.  A sponsorship brochure is available on request, please contact Chris Rostron