Flight of The Swans - Ben Cherry
Elephant in its environment

Flight of The Swans

If you are familiar with this groundbreaking conservation expedition then go straight into key content here, if not then you can find out more via the introduction below.


Introduction

Flight of the Swans was an ambitious conservation project created by the Wildfowl Wetlands Trust in 2016 to try and highlight the plight of the Bewick's swan, a species which WWT has been researching for decades. The Bewick's swan was actually the main reason why Sir Peter Scott first bought Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, to give the swans a safe haven, during their overwintering in the UK back in 1946. Now though the population is on the decline, in 1995 the European population was 29,000, in 2010 it was 18,100, and we are waiting for 2016 data to be processed. This decline is due to a variety of factors, from the intensification of farming and decline of wetlands throughout Europe, to the illegal shooting of this protected species and widespread lead poisoning.

The project is communication focused, with the aim of raising awareness of the Bewick's swan throughout the flyway and ultimately gaining better protection of wetlands throughout the eleven countries the project will pass through.

In September 2016 the field teams headed to northern Russia to start the project which will follow the migration of Bewick's swans from their tundra breeding grounds to their overwintering grounds in the Netherlands and UK. The project will pass through Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France and finish in the UK.

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There are plenty noteworthy conservation projects which sound pretty similar to the project so far. However, following the swans wasn't the only task, Sacha Dench, a WWT employee and paramotorist flew the entire route of the swans, following their migration with her paramotor which highlights many of the same issues that the swans face during their 7,000km journey.

BBC AutumnWatch Feature

Sacha Dench

The bloodymindedness of this woman is quite extraordinary, not only was she taking on a huge personal challenge, she did it representing one of the UK's leading conservation charities, to a strict(ish) schedule and took a huge amount of mental and physical pressures as a result. She made it though! There might have been moments where it hung in the balance, like dislocating her knee in southern Russia and early winter conditions in the Baltics causing delays, but she somehow overcame it all.

Some of that is due in part to her expedition team that followed her on this remarkable journey. This is where I come in, I was fortunate enough to be selected to be part of the media team.


My Role

I was fortunate enough to be chosen to be the stills photographer for the trip, supplying imagery to press and keeping all WWT audiences up to date with the project's progress. As well as that I was the field social media and sponsor obligations manager, so it was fair to say I was reasonably busy, particularly as we had over a dozen generous sponsors. The entire team was pushed to the limit with requirements and constant physical progress required to keep the Flight of The Swans project rolling. Thankfully we had a pretty amazing team, selected specifically to work together under constant pressure.

Selection Process

I am honored to have been selected out of over 300 applicants to attend a selection weekend at Kate Humble's farm (a WWT patron). From there I was selected from an incredibly talented group with the following personnel (you can read about them by clicking on their names):

Sam Vadas - Journalist

Elinor Young - Expedition Media

Matthew Harris - Cinematographer

Benjamin Sadd - Cinematographer

Steve Flanagan - Virtual Reality and Timelapse Specialist

Brian Middleton - Mechanic.


This crew, along with WWT staff Amber Eames (media producer for project) and Peter Cranswick (project coordinator) and the pilots were family for three months, covering eleven countries, with plenty of highs and a handful of lows. At the top of the page and below I will share my latest write ups from the expedition.


Flyway Conservationist - Neils Kanstrup

A short film on flyway conservationist Neils Kanstrup, was shot on a RED Epic Dragon at 6K. The video highlights Denmark's stance on lead shot for hunting, having banned the use of lead for over 20 years. With a clear message to the UK shooting community, will they act upon it to help prevent unnecessary lead poisoning, one of the major reasons for the decline in Bewick's swans.

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