07 December 2016: After flying more than 4,500 miles (7,000km) across 10 countries, Sacha Dench has become the first woman to cross the English Channel by paramotor.
The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) conservationist completed the daring feat on 5 December, when she touched down near Dover.
The Bewick’s swans she has been tracking across Europe for the past 10 weeks, with the help of Inmarsat connectivity, arrive in the UK for the winter via the North Sea. No paramotor could match the birds’ stamina so Sacha was forced to take the shortest route possible across the water, taking off from Wissant, near Calais.
“This part of the flight involved a lot of concentration as it’s the only area of my journey where if I had failed, I would have landed in water,” said Sacha, who was tracked by a safety vessel for the 40-minute flight.
“But now that I’ve done it, I would love to go back and do it again. It’s such a beautiful stretch of water and it’s so great to be the first woman ever to cross the Channel in such a way.”
The purpose of Sacha’s expedition, Flight of the Swans, was to highlight the population decline of the Bewick’s swan, which has almost halved in the last 20 years
It gathered evidence of the dangers they face on their annual migration, including illegal hunting, an increase in power lines, and loss of wetlands.
“We have learned a huge amount,” Sacha said. “We’ve had GPS collars on some of the birds and I’ve been following five in particular over this trip – to see how many other birds they fly with, where they stop, which areas they avoid and why. We’ve built up a huge amount of data we just didn’t have before.”
The expedition was followed closely by scientists, wildlife supporters and schools, so being able to transmit updates was essential. Inmarsat supplied the team with two BGAN terminals and six IsatPhone 2 satellite phones so they could stay in touch, transmit reports, video and photographs, and post on social media, no matter how remote their location or challenging the conditions. BGAN also enabled Sacha to be interviewed live on BBC Breakfast News.
After crossing the wilderness of the Arctic tundra, braving temperatures down to -25°C, battling through snow and thunderstorms and enduring a dislocated knee, Sacha will complete her mission by handing in a petition at Downing Street, calling on the Government to extend nature laws to better protect the wetlands the Bewick’s swan relies on.