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Flying with swans conservationist joins migrating birds on dangerous 4700 mile journey

first_imgSacha Dench believes it will take 70 days to make the 4,700 mile journey back to Britain  Bewick swans travel south to spend the winter in Europe  Bewick swans travel south to spend the winter in Europe  Sacha Dench believes it will take 70 days to make the 4,700 mile journey back to Britain  In the past 20 years, Berwick swan numbers have nearly halved with just 20,000 remaining in the wild but experts are unsure what is causing the population crash.Miss Dench, who works at the Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Gloucestershire,  said friends and family thought she was ‘bonkers’ when she initially told them of her plans, which are fraught with danger.“There is a reason that the swans leave Russia during this time,” said Miss Dench, a former free diving champion. “The weather conditions can get pretty bad. It’s going to get very cold, maybe as low as -20C. And it can get very misty, so when we get to areas where there are power lines and low visibility there is a real danger I won’t see them. Sacha Dench will be making the journey using a paramotor - a type of powered paraglider  A Bewick swan comes into land at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. Fuel caches have been dropped along the route, which passes through 11 countries, to keep the paramotor in the air and she has scoped out hunters huts to camp out in.  But she will still need to travel with nearly 90lbs of weight strapped to her back, for periods of up to three hours at a time.center_img “My family initially thought I was bonkers and that I couldn’t pull it off but I think they have now realised how passionate I am about this, and think I can do it.“Although I am essentially going to be hanging from a piece of fabric for 70 days, so I can see why people might think it’s ridiculous.” The expedition  is backed by Sir David Attenborough who said it was ‘marvellously imaginative and adventurous.’In 1990 Christian Moullec, a French ornithologist, became the first person to successfully complete the migration route with a group of birds from Sweden to Germany followed by 30 geese. He has since spent years training geese to follow migratory routes that avoid hunters.Miss Dench is hoping to set off from Russia on September 6. The first 600 miles of the journey takes her across the Russian tundra, a desolate expanse with no roads, inhabited by polar bears, bears and wolves. To make matters worse Bewicks have been landing at the Wetlands Trust with shotgun pellets buried in their skin.“I am hoping that subsistence hunters who would shoot the swans will realise that I am a human. I am hoping they won’t see me as much of a threat.” she said.“I’m really banking on the fact that once the local communities find out what we are up to and why we are doing it they will be behind us. We have talked to some of the reindeer hunters who sometimes shoot the swans and they didn’t know that the numbers were declining.”Although a support helicopter will be on hand to film the mission, Miss Dench will be largely relying on the good will of local reindeer hunters to help her find food and shelter. She has spent the last year making contact with the nomadic tribes – the Nenets – who inhabit the tundra so they are not alarmed when she flies into view and they have agreed to keep her up to date with their location. She is also paramotoring with Russian Alexander Bogdanov who has been enlisted to help her communicate with the remote communities, although she has been learning the language herself.Despite all the planning, Miss Dench is still worried that she might lose track of the birds, or that they will stop for lengthy periods. Seven swans have been tagged so she can catch up.“The swans fly can fly through the night, which is something that I can’t do, so that’s a worry, and they could decide to land for weeks and weeks to refuel,” she added. Sacha Dench will be making the journey using a paramotor – a type of powered paraglider  Studying the lives of swans might seem like a gentle pursuit involving pleasant afternoons by the river, as the birds glide serenely across the water.But one conservationist is risking being shot, electrocuted and attacked by bears and wolves during a treacherous 4,700 mile journey to follow the migration route of the Bewick Swan.Sacha Dench, 41, a distant relative of Dame Judi Dench, is due to embark on the 10 week mission at the beginning of September. As soon as the swans make a move, Miss Dench will also start her journey.Strapped to a paramotor – a powered paraglider – Ms Dench  is planning to follow the birds as they travel south from their summer breeding grounds in the Russian arctic into Europe for the winter. Numbers of Bewick swans have nearly halved in the past 20 years and nobody knows why Credit:Gettylast_img read more

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