Quantcast
Animals

Daring Conservationist Takes Off on 4,500-Mile Migration With Swans

A British conservationist took off last week in a motorized paraglider, embarking on a 4,500-mile journey across the Russian Arctic. Sacha Dench, 41, who works with the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust in the United Kingdom, is following along the migration route of Bewick's swans in hopes of learning why their numbers have declined by more than a third in the past 20 years.

Sacha Dench in training over Sweden.Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust / PA

The first part of her route took her across the desolate Russian tundra. From Russia, she will cross Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Germany and France, returning to England. Her flying machine is a 35 mph motorized paraglider, also known as a paramotor.

Actual route of Sacha Dench's flight to study Bewick's swans.Flight of the Swans / Wildfowl & Wetland Trust

Dench is accompanied by Alexander Bogdanov, a Russian with knowledge of the region, and Dan Burton from the U.K. They have been flying about six hours a day, stopping to talk to schoolchildren in local settlements along the way. On Sept. 23, the team reached Mezen and was later met by her ground crew. She is currently southwest of Mezen, still over Russian territory.

Powered paragliding can be dangerous. In a study of 384 incidents published in BMJ Open, an open access medical research journal, there were 23 fatalities reported. The engine caused 43 accidents and was responsible for most injuries to the upper limbs. Head trauma and drowning after a water landing are other risks.

Dench was well prepared for this flight. She is a British national free-diving champion, able to hold her breath under water for 6 minutes and 22 seconds. She is an experienced paramotorist and has taken tundra survival courses.

In the air, her body suit is connected to the engine, electrically heating gloves and socks to keep her warm. She can communicate with her crew as well as air traffic control, and she's equipped with a GPS tracker and a personal locator beacon. They're carrying spare spark plugs, tools and survival gear.

Why is she risking this dangerous flight?

The number of Bewick's swans has dropped from 29,000 in 1995 to 18,000 in 2010. There are several known reasons, but none to account for such a large population decline. Also known as a tundra swan, the species is listed as of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Bewick's swans, which are sometimes considered a sub-species, cannot be hunted legally, but more than half are found with lead shot in their bodies. Other explanations for their decline include power line strikes and the loss of wetland habitat along the birds' migration route.

Filming the expedition.Flight of the Swans / Wildfowl & Wetland Trust

Her expedition, the Flight of the Swans, which is being filmed, has been backed by Dame Judi Dench, a distant relative, Sir David Attenborough and Sir Ralph Fiennes. She expects to arrive back in England in late October, around the time of the arrival of the Bewick's swans. To bird lovers in Britain, their arrival is a sign of the coming winter.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
The turkey ranch in Sonora is where Diestel keeps its pasture-raised birds. Jeanne Cooper

Popular Diestel Turkey Sold at Whole Foods Tests Positive for FDA-Prohibited Drugs

Diestel Turkey, sold by Whole Foods and other retailers at premium prices, says on its website that its "animals are never given hormones, antibiotics or growth stimulants."

But Diestel Turkey samples tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest otherwise, leading consumers to wonder: Can these companies be trusted?

Keep reading... Show less
Animals

Slaughter of 90,000 Wild Horses Could Proceed Despite 80% Objection From American Public

The American Wild Horse Campaign on Thursday harshly criticized Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke's appointment of Brian Steed, the former chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), as the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as dangerous and out of step with the wishes of the vast majority of Americans.

"Rep. Stewart is leading the charge to slaughter America's wild horses and burros over the opposition of 80 percent of Americans," said Suzanne Roy, AWHC Executive Director. "Putting his deputy at the helm of the agency charged with protecting these national icons is like putting the wolf in charge of the chicken coop."

Keep reading... Show less
Renewable Energy

Bright Idea: This Lamp Harvests Its Own Energy From Plants

Now that's green energy. Dutch product designer Ermi van Oers and her team are working on the first atmospheric lamp powered by living plants.

The Living Light does not require an electric socket. It can harvest its own energy through the photosynthetic process of the encased plant, which means the potential of this off-grid light source could be "huge," as Van Oers told Dezeen.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate

Landmark Youth Climate Lawsuit Heads to Federal Appeals Court

There has been a significant development in the constitutional climate change lawsuit so far successfully prosecuted by 21 youth plaintiffs: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided to hear oral argument over whether the Trump administration can evade trial currently set for Feb. 5, 2018. Oral arguments will be heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Dec. 11 and can be watched on a live stream beginning at 10 a.m. PST.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Martin Schulz / Flickr

Pope Francis: These 4 'Perverse Attitudes' Could Push Earth to Its Brink

Pope Francis issued a strong message to negotiators at the COP23 climate talks in Bonn, Germany on Thursday, warning them not to fall into "four perverse attitudes" regarding the future of the planet—"denial, indifference, resignation and trust in inadequate solutions."

Francis, who has long pressed for strong climate action and wrote his 2015 encyclical on the environment, renewed his "urgent call" for renewed dialogue "on how we are building the future of the planet."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
The Greenpeace ship Esperanza sits near the Statoil contracted oil rig Transocean Spitsbergen. Greenpeacce

Groups Sue Norway Over Failure to Protect Environment for Future Generations

By David Leestma

Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth environmental group opened a lawsuit this week over Norway's failure to abide by its constitutional obligation to safeguard the environment for future generations.

The lawsuit, which focuses on local environmental damage and the contribution that oil extraction will make to climate change, challenges 10 licenses issued by the Norwegian government for exploration in the Barents Sea. Given to Statoil, Chevron and other oil companies, the licenses violate Norway's constitution and the Paris agreement, according to the plaintiffs. Government lawyers claim the case is a publicity stunt that risks valuable jobs.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Food
Lia Heifetz of Barnacle Foods hauls kelp for salsa. Bethany Sonsini Goodrich

A Plea for Kelp: These Farmers and Chefs Want to Make Seaweed the Next Superfood

By Sarah Bedolfe

Summer in southeast Alaska is kelp season for the cofounders of Barnacle Foods, Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern. Each week, the pair watches the tides and weather, waiting for the right moment to cruise out to the abundant kelp beds offshore. They lean over the side of the boat and pull up the fronds and stalks, one piece at a time. As soon as they get back to shore, they start processing the day's harvest into a local delicacy: kelp salsa.

Salsa and Alaskan algae might seem like odd bedfellows, but for Barnacle Foods, it's a calculated decision. The kelp's savory notes make the salsa's flavor "a little more explosive," according to Kern. And the pairing is also a practical one. "Salsa is such a familiar food item," Heifetz said. It's "a gateway to getting more people to eat seaweed."

Keep reading... Show less
Popular
Lorie Shaull / Flickr

Massive Pipeline Leak Shows Why Nebraska Should Reject Keystone XL

About 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil leaked Thursday from TransCanada's Keystone oil pipeline near Amherst, South Dakota, drawing fierce outcry from pipeline opponents.

The leak, the largest spill to date in South Dakota, comes just days before Nebraska regulators decide on whether its controversial sister project—the Keystone XL (KXL) Pipeline—will go forward.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!