Highlights of 2016 - Ben Cherry
Forest Road

Highlights of 2016

What a year 2016 was from traveling to and from Russia, to multiple projects with the likes of Fujifilm and the Wildfowl Wetlands Trust (WWT). It's fair to say that the year didn't start off all that promising, returning from six months as a researcher in Costa Rica with no plans or projects lined up, it was back to UK/reality with an abrupt bump. Things could have been very different to what they are now, I thought my future might lie directly in conservation research or charity communication, as a result of that I applied for various jobs, from working for an elephant research group in Botswana, to working as a researcher for WWF. I was flattered to be offered interviews with both of these positions, but it was clear that we weren't the perfect match. I still had a hankering for something which was trying to cause meaningful change in the conservation world, while at the same time encourage my communications creativity, whether that was photos, writing, social media or film. 

I needed something that would allow me to think things through properly as well as offer a new exciting project. This is when I had the idea of returning to one of my favorite places in the UK, the Isle of Skye. A place with such savage and beautiful landscapes, it can't help but put things into perspective. A huge thank you has to go out to my god parents Simon and Deborah Milner for letting me stay in their house on Skye, no doubt I will be trying to call in the same favor again soon! 

The trip coincided with getting my hands on the Fujifilm XF100-400mm lens, surely a match made in heaven for my line of work. Having had to make do with a 140mm maximum focal length in Costa Rica, I was chomping at the bit to see how I would get on with this portable zoom. 

I knew that I was going to love it, so much so that I approached Fujifilm UK with a proposal to make a video about my experience with it, enter the exceptionally talented Ismar Badzic!

Promotional video for Fujifilm XF100-400mm

A huge thank you has to go out to Marc Horner at Fujifilm UK, for some reason he is always fighting my battles, helping my weird and wonderful project ideas. I know that I wouldn't be in the position I am now without his support, that goes for everyone at Fujifilm. 

Ismar and I spent a few days filming this sequence before he had to return for other projects, you can see more of his work here - http://glovesandglass.com

I spent more time up on Skye enjoying the wilderness, while still applying for roles. One role in particular caught my eye, a weird project called Flight of The Swans which was looking to document the migration of the declining Bewick's swans from Arctic Russia back to the UK. They were after media volunteers and it sounded right up my street so I applied. 

As this is a highlight of 2016, for each project I have a little highlight selection of sixteen images, here are my favorites from Skye. 

Isle Of Skye, Scotland

A brief but important interlude, in-between projects. My Flight of The Swans application was accepted to the next stage which involved a selection weekend at Kate Humble's farm in rural Wales. Surrounded by twelve exceptionally talented candidates for five places, the weekend was a lot of fun. Meeting our selectors, all with extensive experience in expeditions. We were put through our paces with team building exercises and challenges, it was great to see everyone come together even though we were each others competition! 

I was thrilled to find out that I had been selected to be part of the team. This fascinating opportunity offered various training opportunities which meant that any longterm project ideas had to be put on hold.

Flight of The Swans Candidates

Enter the landmark camera

During the summer I was contacted by Fujifilm about the up and coming X-T2 and whether I would be interested in testing out a prototype version... Obviously I pondered this for a while... 

... Who am I kidding an almost instantaneous and overexcited responses was given! 

This quickly led to the idea of doing a three-part series of short snappy video blogs for the brilliant www.fujifim-x.com site 

The first blog can be found here - http://fujifilm-x.com/x-stories/ben-cherry-nature-x-photographer-taking-the-best-from-the-x-t1-into-the-x-t2/

Here are my sixteen favorite photos from that trip to the Farne Islands. 

Farne Islands

Summer time, training and Copenhagen!

Flight of The Swans training and practise trips got underway, with a trip to Toulouse, France to film Sacha Dench, our 'human swan' who will be flying the entire journey of the Bewick's swans via paramotor, as she under went her preparations. There was also an extensive remote first aid course ran by the guys from Lazarus Training - 

http://www.lazarustraining.co.uk/2016/07/01/lazarus-training-news/

We also had MET Office advanced weather training, Inmarsat Satellite phone and began training, as well as a workshop with RED Cinema Cameras at Pinewood Studios(!).

In-between all of this my best mate and journalist, Joel Watson and I went on a spontaneous long weekend trip to Copenhagen. We had always wanted to go off traveling together, so this was a good place to start! Though this was mostly for fun, we wanted to use our combined skill sets to document our trip. You can find these entertaining installments below:

1. Hookers and Hipsters - http://www.bencherryphotos.com/Blog/Copenhagen-Hookers-and-Hipster

2. Marijuana Mecca - http://www.bencherryphotos.com/Blog/Marijuana-Mecca

3. Selfie Schtick - http://www.bencherryphotos.com/Blog/Selfie-Schtick

4. Copenhangover - http://www.bencherryphotos.com/Blog/Copenhangover

Though all tongue and cheek, it was great fun and distinctly different from work we'd done before! Below is my sixteen shots from that trip, all taken with the only camera I took with me, my trusty X100T.

Copenhagen

Flight of the Swans

This is going to be very difficult to summarise, I'll do my best but there will be plenty more on this project in the future. 

My primary roles:

Stills Photographer - Providing images for WWT, press and my other roles

Social Media field manager - keeping Facebook (Link), Twitter (Link) and Instagram (Link) up to date. 

Field sponsor content manager - Over a dozen sponsors made this project possible, and I had to keep them happy by the end of it! With videos, photos and blogs to coordinate with the team back at HQ as well as the expedition team. 

The project had lots of things going for it, but plenty trying to stop it in its tracks! Many of which can't be made public, but multi-day border crossings between Russia and the EU as well as poor Sacha dislocating her knee were just some of the issues which faced this ground breaking project. The first gallery below is from our time in Russia, a truly remarkable country, with the most generous and hospitable communities I have ever had the pleasure of coming across. I know that all of the other projects only get sixteen images, but Flight of The Swans has been such a big part of my life for the past year, I thought it warranted two galleries!

Flight of The Swans Part 1

This project revitalised my faith in humanity when it comes to approaching conservation. From the incredible amount of news attention this generated in all eleven countries along the flyway, as well as news outlets around the world, to the level of interaction we had with schools in every country visited. It showed that we generally do care about nature and want to protect it, sometimes it just needs a courageous lady to fly 7,000km to get mainstream media attention!

Conservation is an incredibly difficult subject that needs weird and wonderful projects like this to get the public's attention, to raise awareness for species who can't speak out. The Bewick's swan has seen a dramatic decline over the past twenty years, from issues including: intensive farming, lose of wetlands, illegal shooting and lead poisoning. I was given the privilege of traveling ahead of the core team to Denmark to document a hunting conference and conduct a number of interviews. The reason for going to Denmark is that it is the only country which has banded the use of lead shot which is a major environmental issue and results in thousands of wildfowl dying every year due to lead poisoning. Here is the video:

Flyway Conservationist - Niels Kanstrup, Danish Hunter

Here is the second  series of sixteen Estonia onwards. From catching glimpses of large European mammals like moose, boar and even a wolf, to witnessing large flocks of wildfowl on pristine wetlands, highlighting the habitat's importance for so many species. It was a hard, wearing and exhausting project but one I am incredibly proud to have been and still be a part of.

During the trip I wrote three blogs for Fujifilm UK about the experience. 

1. How I got involved and what I took with me

2. My experience in Russia

3. Traveling back to the UK, what a journey!

Finally a big shout out to the rest of the Flight of The Swans, particularly my fellow volunteers! Clearly the selection weekend worked as I would go on another expedition with you all in a heartbeat, here's to catching up in 2017!

Flight of The Swans Part 2

2016 was a monumental year for me, from all the projects to branching into natural history filmmaking. 2017 will hopefully see a continuation of my involvement in Flight of The Swans, and hopefully other projects which will help highlight the importance of nature around us. 

Happy New Year to everyone, thank you for reading about my year and I hope that 2017 brings you everything that you hope for. 

Here's to another great year!

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