‘Human Swan’ set to fly from Scotland to West Africa

British conservationist and adventurer Sacha Dench will take to the skies on a motorised paraglider, to raise awareness of the plight of migratory birds and investigate plastic pollution

Sacha Dench, the Human Swan (Photo by: Conservation Without Borders)

A conservationist, previously nicknamed the ‘Human Swan’, is set to fly through 15 countries in order to raise awareness of the plight of migratory birds.

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Sacha Dench, who gained her nickname after completing Bewick’s swan migration journey in 2016, will undertake the 10,000 km osprey migration route next autumn, using a simple fabric wing and small propeller engine.

The expedition aims to raise awareness of the UK’s ospreys, and Sacha, along with the ground crew of various scientists, will also investigate underwater worlds and sample for pollutants and plastics on her journey.

Curlews have brown and grey feathers

Ospreys were totally exterminated in Britain in the early 20th century. After one breeding pair appeared in Scandinavia in the 1950s, Osprey nests were guarded for many years to protect them from egg collectors and other hazards.

Although the osprey has been reintroduced in Wales, Scotland and England, the return has been slow.

Osprey in flight (Photo by: John Wright)
Osprey in flight (Photo by: John Wright)

Conservationists hope that with help, the osprey will become widespread along coasts, wetlands and waterways right across the UK.

Unlike swans, ospreys migrate on thermal updrafts to reach great altitudes of thousands of feet and then take long glides to their next thermal.

Dench’s ‘Flight of the Osprey’ expedition, supported by Dame Judi Dench and explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, will investigate the threats to the osprey along their range, and work out what we – individuals, local communities and organisations – can do to help the osprey make a full comeback.

What does the expedition involve?

In Autumn 2020, Sacha will fly from Scotland to Ghana, across countries including Morocco, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Sierra Leone.

She will experience the dangers faced by ospreys – including bad weather, long sea crossings, extreme heat, and potential predators – in order to gain an insight into how conservationists can help.

Sacha will also share the view of the world using the latest technology to film and broadcast, allowing the public to follow her journey – and that of the GPS tagged ospreys – in real time.

Birds' eye view of Casamance, Senegal, where Sacha will be flying over (Photo by: Conservation without Boundaries)
Birds’ eye view of Casamance, Senegal, where Sacha will be flying over (Photo by: Conservation without Borders)

Sacha said: “I’m really excited about this new expedition. The osprey is magnificent bird and an impressive flyer. To get inside the head of the animals we are trying to bring back, and try to see the world as they do, will be an eye-opener for scientists and conservationists.

“The last expedition taught me there is nothing like showing up and talking to local people, to help learn what the problems really are, but also to come up with a plan – with them, and sometimes really quickly – for how to solve them.”

She continued: “This expedition won’t just help the osprey. By investigating the health of the wetlands, especially the plastics and pollutants getting into the water system, we could help all manner of migrating birds and other animals that depend on healthy wetlands and waterways, including ourselves.”

Osprey in the desert (Photo by: John Wright)
Osprey in the desert (Photo by: John Wright)

Nick Williams, Head of the Coordinating Unit, United Nations CMS Raptors MoU said: “Sacha’s creative and courageous expedition ignites the explorer spirit within each of us. She’s a gifted communicator who will inspire people in countries all along the flyway to truly appreciate the immense challenges faced by osprey, and other species, during their incredible annual migrations.

“Sacha’s unique approach will spotlight the way in which ospreys connect continents, countries and communities and promote the critical importance of conserving these amazing aerial ambassadors”.

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To find out more about the expedition, visit: Conservation Without Borders