Yuliya Leonova: Following swan migration from a paramotor
© Andrei Glotov

Yuliya Leonova: Following swan migration from a paramotor

On September 23, British researcher Sacha Dench left Nenetsky Nature Reserve on a paramotor and headed for Slimbridge accompanied by two pilots and a flock of Bewick’s swans. She intends to fly 7,000 kilometers with the swans as they cross 11 countries on their migration path. Yuliya Leonova, an environment education expert at Nenetsky Nature Reserve, told arctic.ru about the Flying with Swans - Arctic Start expedition.

Ms. Leonova, could you tell us about the Bewick's swan. Why is Sacha Dench, an expert in environment protection and rational use at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust UK, so interested in this bird species?

Bewick's swan is on Russia's Endangered Species List in the 5th category "Recovered and recovering species," while UK experts who work on birds are sounding an alarm. They believe that the Bewick's swan population is declining, since there are fewer and fewer birds of this species that arrive to England. About ten years ago there were some 8,000 birds, but now only 3,000-5,000 birds arrive to spend the winter. But this may not necessarily be attributable to overkill or illegal hunting. It may be that these birds are simply changing their migration routes, choosing Greece over Slimbridge for example. Some data point this way.

Is understanding why there are fewer birds the main purpose of the expedition?

Yes. In addition, between flights, during her stops in villages in Nenets Autonomous Region, Sacha not only rests and fuels her paramotor, but also talks to local residents. She can acquire information on how they treat birds, whether they are able to see the difference between a Bewick's swan and a whooper swan, and whether they hunt these birds.

Overall, she just wants to feel what it's like to fly like a swan, what is the strain they experience during migration, and how weather conditions affect them.

Who is accompanying Sacha Dench?

She is accompanied by Russian paramotorist Alexander Bogdanov and British pilot Dan Burton. In the Nenets Autonomous Region they were also accompanied by a Robinson helicopter, and now they flying over Mezen, accompanied by a Cessna airplane.

How long will the expedition last?

e asked Sacha this question, but she was unable to provide any details, since anything can happen along the way. It didn't take her too long, just 4 or 5 days to cross the Nenets Autonomous Region. The takeoff was quite messy, but she managed to get things going pretty quickly. She plans to stop in St. Petersburg, Pskov and other places. She plans to meet with schoolchildren, since education is also a priority. She will be talking about swans.

Ms. Leonova, wasn't it possible to carry out this research project on the ground?

No. There are simply no roads from the place where Bewick's swans are concentrated and reproduce in the Nenets reserve to Mezen, so she had to fly over the tundra. There were SUVs waiting for her there, so she will have ground support as she continues her journey.

In fact, this is not the first research project of its kind. Somewhere in America researchers flew with Canada geese. Sacha decided to give it a try. She will cross 11 countries in order to understand how our swans fly.