‘Human Swan’ grounded for first expedition less than a year after fatal collision

Conservationist Sacha Dench is beginning her first expedition since being involved in a mid-air collision which claimed the life of her cameraman.

By Katharine Hay
Monday, 1st August 2022, 4:55 am

She said her trip will be dedicated to her late colleague as much as it is for conservation.

Dan Burton, 54, died when the pair’s paramotors collided in the north west Highlands in September last year.

Ms Dench, who has been dubbed the “human swan” for flying some 7,000km (4,300 miles) on a paramotor across Russia and Europe in 2016 to track the Bewick’s swan, survived the crash but was left with life-changing injuries.

Now, only months out of hospital, the Australian-born biologist, who still has one of her legs in a metal brace and requires crutches to walk, is setting off on the Flight of the Osprey expedition on Monday.

Run by Conservation Without Borders, which she founded, Dench is leading a team of nine people to follow the migration route of the bird of prey some 10,000km (6,213 miles) from the Morayshire coast to Ghana through 14 countries – a trip that will last about four months.

“We are doing this expedition for Dan just as much as we are doing it for the ospreys,” she said. “I know he would be cheering me and the team on.

“He’ll be with us along the way.”

The Human Swan: Sacha Dench before tragedy struck last year

The aim of the mission is to gather data and highlight the impacts of climate change and human activities on ospreys and other wildlife, after the original trip in 2020 was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.

Ospreys migrate on their own, which means the young ones make the epic and often perilous feat of endurance without adults birds.

Dench said only 70% of juveniles return for breeding, and the team wants to know more about why.

The group will be tracking four tagged birds and talking to experts and local communities along the way.

With her body still in recovery, Dench said she will not be taking to the skies for this expedition.

Flight of the Osprey is a conservation project in collaboration with UN agencies, scientists, media and governments.