‘Human swan’ launches 6,000-mile osprey expedition from Scotland to Africa

Sacha Dench became known as the human swan (Mark Runnacles/PA) (PA Archive)
Sacha Dench became known as the human swan (Mark Runnacles/PA) (PA Archive)

Sportswoman and conservationist Sacha Dench is launching a new expedition to track the 6,000-mile migration route of ospreys from Scotland to west Africa.

Ms Dench is leading the journey through 14 countries this summer to gather data and highlight the impacts of climate change and human activities on the birds of prey and other wildlife, after the original trip was postponed due to Covid.

Ms Dench, dubbed “the human swan”, is not yet able to fly following a paramotor accident during the Round Britain Climate Challenge last year, in which Dan Burton, a member of her support staff, was killed.

She was attempting a world-first circumnavigation of mainland Britain to raise awareness about climate change when she was seriously injured in the accident in the western Highlands of Scotland in September.

Paramotorist Sacha Dench was badly injured last year (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)
Paramotorist Sacha Dench was badly injured last year (Andrew Milligan/PA) (PA Archive)

As a champion free diver, Ms Dench intends to dive to investigate some of the wetland sites that are important to fish-eating ospreys while the journey will be captured from the air, land and underwater by the team.

Ospreys became extinct as a breeding bird in England in 1840 and in Scotland in 1916, and though they have since slowly recolonised – helped by reintroductions – they remain in low numbers in Britain.

The “Flight Of The Osprey” expedition by Conservation Without Borders, founded by Ms Dench, will focus on the threat they and other wildlife, habitats and people face from climate change and human activities, including power lines, overfishing, plastic waste and fishing debris.

She said a recent report by the UN science body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, had highlighted that climate change and human activity is causing widespread disruption and affecting the balance of nature.

She added: “This expedition will shine a light on the challenges these issues present for migratory birds along the East Atlantic Flyway between Europe and Africa, by focusing on the story of the osprey.

“And it won’t just help the osprey. It will help to pinpoint the things that we humans can do to help ospreys and a wide range of other migratory birds and animals whose lives, like our own, depend on healthy, unpolluted land and oceans,” she said.

Ahead of a speech at the official launch event in London on Thursday evening, Conservation Without Borders’ supporter and actress Joanna Lumley, said: “Ever since Sacha told me about this extraordinarily exciting trip following the osprey, I have been longing to know that it will actually take place.

“Since her life-threatening accident, Sacha has somehow transformed herself into the ‘Human Phoenix’, rising above her dreadful injuries and facing the world with even more determination than before – and now at last the thrilling journey will go ahead.

“If bravery has a mortal form, it is to be found in Sacha. This is nail-biting stuff, concerning our planet and its migratory birds, and I shall be following the team every wingbeat of the way.”