By Saul Cooke-Black

VOLUNTEERS from WWT Slimbridge have set off for Russia to meet conservationist Sacha Dench who is attempting to fly alongside thousands of migrating swans.

The team, including a medic, a mechanic, a journalist, a photographer and two cameramen, will support Sacha from the ground as she makes the world’s first attempt at following Bewick’s swans on their annual migration.

Sacha, who works for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) at Slimbridge and is a former British and Australian free-diving champion, will be flying 7,000km across 11 countries in a powered paraglider from Russia to the UK.

Along the way they will meet the people who the swans cross paths with each year, and investigate the dramatic decline in the swan population that has happened over the last two decades.

They will broadcast live updates from the field twice a week, showing the world how it looks through a swan’s eyes.

WWT swan researcher Julia Newth, who saw the team set off, said: “It’s amazing to see all these months of planning come together. It’s a really nice feeling to see them all go.”

Sacha and her team will highlight the perils and wonders of the incredible journey that the birds complete twice a year, starting from just a few months old.

The expedition aims to uncover new science about the Bewick’s swans, whose numbers have halved in the last 20 years, and unite people from different cultures to try to reverse the decline.

Photographer Ben Cherry, who has volunteered three months of his time to be part of the crew and document Sacha’s journey, said: “I’m really looking forward to getting up to Russia.

“I cannot wait to find the Bewick’s swans in their natural habitat and film them as they do their migration down to the UK.

“The whole trip is going to be really really exciting, looking after Sacha and keeping her going on this amazing personal journey she’s doing, and getting to know the team more.”

Sacha Dench is currently in the far north of Russia near the Bewick’s swans’ breeding grounds, waiting for weather conditions to trigger their migration.

Once they depart, she will follow their route across the tundra, stopping to refuel and rest at hunters’ huts along the coast, until she reaches the support team in Arkhangelsk.

WWT’s work has focused on Bewick’s swans for over 50 years.

WWT’s logo is a pair of Bewick’s swans in flight and its staff helped write an international action plan to reverse the current decline of Bewick’s swans in Europe, which was adopted by the governments of countries visited by the swans in 2012.

Follow updates on the expedition at