British conservationist Sacha Dench is preparing for a 10-week, 4,500-mile journey where she'll travel across 11 countries to uncover new information about the rare Bewick's swans.
Using a paramotor, a motorized and steerable paraglider, Dench plans to mirror the swans' path from the Russian Arctic to Britain as they migrate to milder climates. The number of Bewick's swans has halved in the last two decades, bringing numbers down to only 16,000 left in the world. Though the reason for the decline in the population is unclear, illegal shooting and climate change have been suspected as possible causes.
Dench, who works for the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), will brave tough conditions on her solo journey, including extremely cold temperatures and weather that will make it impossible to fly.
"We will be flying in the cold, with winds in the wrong direction, and having to find safe places to land on the tundra," she says. "There will be predators, wolves and potentially polar bears up in the arctic tundra, and further south I'll have to avoid power lines and avoid fog."
A back up team will be available to assist her for the first few hundred miles as she takes to the skies. Dench has also attended a survival course in preparation before beginning her flight in September.
"This expedition is very close to my heart," she says. "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."