A light tailwind gave Dench, who is working with the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) on the project, ideal conditions to start her journey from the Pechora Delta on Russia’s northern coast to the UK.
Over the next ten weeks Dench will fly across northern Europe and then cross The Channel and continue to the swans’ most westerly destination: Slimbridge Wetland Centre in Gloucestershire, UK.
At each point along the journey she will spend time with the people who live along the swans’ path, who may have clues as to the decline of the swan population.
Over the last two decades, the number of Bewick’s swans making the journey back across northern Europe has almost halved. Researchers have identified several dangers that the swans face, but the exact reasons behind their decline remain a mystery.
In Britain, Bewick’s Swans winter on shallow freshwater lakes, marshes or slow-moving rivers, near or adjacent to extensive grasslands liable to flooding. Bewick swans are the smallest member of the swan family and traditionally arrive in the UK at the start of winter. I
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.
“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.”
Her progress is being tracked by satellite at www.flightoftheswans.org and twice a week starting next Sunday she will broadcast video diaries, detailing her progress and encounters with the swans and the people along the way.
WWT vice president, Sir David Attenborough, said: “This expedition is marvellously imaginative and adventurous, and a fitting project in WWT’s 70th anniversary. Peter Scott did similar in his day and inspired the world. That swans should fly from Russia, to come here, is surely a kind of parable – we can live in harmony with nature, and it’s up to us to do so.”
Dench is also collecting signatures to show the level of support for helping the Bewick’s swans. There is a petition page at www.flightoftheswans.org