Flying With Swans – level 3

30-08-2016 15:00

Meet the high-flying conservationist hot on the trail of some disappearing birds. Sasha Dench is gearing up for a 4,500-mile (7,242 kilometres) flight from the Russian Arctic to Britain with a giant fan strapped to her back.

“These are the risers, this is what I’m hanging off from in-flight, how I’m connected to the wing. I’ve got my brakes here, which I can pull down to steer, and for my accelerator, it’s basically just this strap here, so as you release that, I basically then make the wing fall faster and so I get about another 30, 35 kilometres an hour just by releasing those straps.”

The journey is one made every year by thousands of Bewick’s swans and it’s their migratory flight that Sasha hopes to observe. Their numbers have halved in the past 20 years but nobody knows exactly why.

“We know quite a few of the threats that they face from illegal shooting, ingesting lead shot which they get blood poisoning from, hitting power lines – that’s another big problem, but what we also know is that none of those threats on their own is bad enough to be causing the decline as it is, so there might be another piece of the puzzle that we’re missing. What we do know is that a load of the birds won’t survive migration this year.”

The route will take Sasha over 11 countries and with no roads below her for the first 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometres) there will be no ground crew to assist her. It’s no small feat for a woman who just five years ago was terrified of flying.

Sasha is set to take to the skies in the name of science next week.

Difficult words: hot on the trail (very close to finding something), gear up (prepare), strapped (secured to), riser (a piece of vertical metal), migratory (related to migration), feat (achievement).



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