Ben is an environmental photojournalist and we are delighted he has volunteered to join the Flight of the Swans expedition team.
Here we catch up with Ben to find out what made him want to volunteer and what he’s hoping he can bring to the expedition.
Q What prompted you to get involved?
Flight of the Swans is an amazing opportunity and I really wanted to be part of a project like this. It’s ambitious and will push all those involved to the limits. I love the idea of using a challenging expedition to raise awareness of a conservation issue and hopefully using it to engage not only nature enthusiasts but the wider public too.
It is also incredibly ambitious and courageous of WWT to be taking on such a challenge. Maybe this will be the start of an NGO movement to engage the public and ultimately encourage change through dramatic, attention grabbing campaigns such as this – travelling by paramotor from Arctic Russia to Slimbridge, who wouldn’t be interested in that?!
Q What are you looking forward to most?
Seeing the dramatic beauty of the countries we pass through, as well as interacting with people from widely different cultures to my own… it sounds like a very enlightening experience. But it is more than just travelling to new places, there is an actual goal behind all of this – to protect Bewick’s swans and other wildfowl species – that really makes me want to be involved.
The more information I receive about the project, the more I realise how important this campaign is. An estimated 100,000 wildfowl die annually in the UK alone, due to poisoning from lead shot. No surprise then to discover that the Bewick’s are also severely under threat from illegal shooting, despite being protected in all the countries they migrate through.
During the expedition we will be staying with local hunting communities. This will provide a fantastic opportunity to talk to them about the research and conservation work that WWT does and to get them involved.
I’m also interested in seeing for myself first hand, some of the other threats facing the migrating swans. Many of the wetland areas where they stop over en route, to rest and feed are disappearing. Climate change, drainage and development all play a part. Power lines also create a massive collision hazard for these birds, as they struggle to see them, especially during dawn and dusk as they take off and land.
Q How hard was the selection process?
I sent off my CV and cover letter, hoping that I was what WWT was looking for. I was thrilled to make the shortlist, but instead of interviews, the Flight of the Swans team had a far more interesting selection process – a weekend in Wales! Armed with expedition hardened survival trainers they gave the fifteen of us a series of challenges to get through together. From entire group exercises to smaller multi-team challenges. From filming exercises and communication challenges, to night orienteering, car accident simulations and driving drills, the diversity of tasks gave an indication of how challenging this project is going to be.
Though little sleep was had, it was a brilliant experience and we were incredibly lucky with the weather, which is partly why we were all smiles by the end. It was a brilliant opportunity for us to meet the Flight of the Swans team and see if this was what we really wanted to do, and likewise it was a creative way for them to see who was most suited to this expedition. I am thrilled to have been selected as the caliber of everyone involved was incredibly high and no doubt, those not involved will be working on exciting projects in the future.
Q What are you hoping you can bring to the expedition?
As an environmental photojournalist and zoologist, I have been passionate about the natural world all my life and have always preferred the great outdoors to the classroom. Photography caught my eye aged eleven and seemed to be a means for me to share my wild experiences with others.
It wasn’t until I had graduated from my Zoology degree that I realised that I wanted to communicate more than just the beauty of the natural world, I wanted to raise awareness of important conservation issues as well as sustainability between us and nature. Photojournalism with a focus on our relationship with the environment around us.
I have been published in numerous UK photography magazines as well as an in-depth photo story published in the Explorers Journal (a US based magazine, link to it here) on the plight of pygmy elephants due to palm oil expansion. I am a Fujifilm X-Photographer, working on assignments with Fujifilm, from blogging to product releases.
Q What does Flight of the Swans mean to you?
Flight of the Swans seems to be expanding and gaining in its potential impact all of the time, likewise so are my expectations. I hope to get valuable training and experience on this state of the art expedition, surrounded by industry leading professionals, which will hopefully act as a springboard for me to launch into a conservation communications career. I wholeheartedly believe in this scheme, as long as the amazing amount of paper work and planning all goes to plan then it is down to us on the ground to make the most of this incredible opportunity. Ultimately, I hope that I can be a part of a project that can make a meaningful impact on the currently declining Bewick’s Swans population.
But you don’t have to be a volunteer on the expedition to make a difference. You can do something as simple as sign our petition which demands protection for these birds and their valuable wetland habitats.