By Ben Cherry – Environmental photojournalist & Fujifilm X-Photographer.
I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of the volunteer media team covering a project called Flight of the Swans. This is an ambitious conservation expedition, where Sacha Dench will paramotor from Arctic Russia back to the UK over 10 weeks following the flyway of Bewick’s swans.
This charismatic species was what encouraged Sir Peter Scott to set up Slimbridge and eventually the Wildfowl Wetlands Trust (WWT). Now though, the species is under threat having gone through a dramatic decline over the past twenty years. Between 1995 – 2010 the Europe population fell from 29,000 to just 18,000. The purpose of this expedition is to raise awareness of their plight, to confirm the key reasons for it, and hopefully create solutions.
This is the first of three blogs covering the project. Here we will focus on the lead up to the take off and the ground team reuniting with Sacha. Then there will be a blog during the expedition and one just as we all return to the UK.
How I got involved
Ambitious and ‘out there’ projects like this don’t come around very often so when I saw the advertisement online I jumped at the chance to get involved. I was lucky enough to be shortlisted alongside an amazing group of people and the next step was a selection weekend in Wales, where we were put through a series of exercises to see how well we can adapt and collaborate. This was a fantastic weekend, supervised by seasoned explorers and everyone came together, despite the competition and lack of sleep!
Once I was informed that WWT would like me to be a part of the media team, I became as available as possible to help where I could, leading up to the off. We have been put through a series of training exercises from remote first aid, to satellite phone tutorials, as well as covering some of Sacha’s specialist training, like having to jump into a simulation pool at RNLI College, Poole to see how well her flotation devices for the paramotor work! It does help that she used to be a professional free diver…
You can find out more about the selection process here – choosing our dream team To read my personal reasons for joining the project you can see that here – Meet Ben Cherry, one of our media volunteers.
What kit I’m taking
I have two bag set ups for two different purposes:
Shoulder bag/go bag
This is basically the first thing I grab when we arrive at a general location. It contains an X100T, X-Pro2, XF16mm F1.4, XF35mm F1.4, 56mm F1.2 and an SP-1 printer. The set up encourages me to be creative as well as being small and not intimidating when first encountering a new community.
Backpack – Wildlife/assignment bag
When I know we are going out to find the swans or capture other aspects of nature, then this is the bag I grab. Inside is an X-T2, X-T1, XF10-24mm F4, XF16-55mm F2.8, XF50-140mm F2.8, XF100-400mm F4.5-5.6. As well as miscellaneous items like filters, cleaning kit and a flash set up.
Having the two distinct bags means that I can keep my kit focused for particular types of photography, as well as not constantly overloading myself with gear. This particular project has so many interesting factors, from tracking the swans which are very timid in Russia and much of Europe, to engaging local schools, conservation and hunting groups. My kit has to be able to maximise each and every opportunity.
The rangefinder cameras are brilliant as they are particularly inconspicuous. I keep them together as I use my right eye with the rangefinder cameras, while I use my left eye with the SLR style cameras. The X-T range cameras are generally more flexible, particularly the X-T2. So from my perspective it makes sense to keep the most versatile lenses (zooms) and cameras together. Generally the X-T2 has the XF100-400mm attached inside the bag so it is ready in case we come across any wildlife suddenly or Sacha has to take off/land quickly. The advanced autofocus and 4K footage makes the X-T2 ideal for this kind of project.
How has it gone so far?
At the time of writing this (23rd September, now I will hopefully be running around the amazing tundra!) we the ground team have just arrived in Arkhangelsk, Russia. Referencing the map below, that is where the blue line from the UK has stopped, as well as the green line coming down from the tundra, that is Daisy Clarke, one of our satellite tagged Bewick’s! Sacha is the highest, turquoise line. To get the latest on our location be sure to regularly check our live satellite map – https://www.flightoftheswans.org/live-map/
Sacha has made amazing progress so the ground team have had to work double time to make sure we join up and keep on schedule. We left on the 14th September, and have managed to cover over 2,500 miles during that time, along with a 32 hour stay at the Russian border.. We will hopefully reunite with Sacha tomorrow!
From there we will then steadily start heading back to the UK all together. Along the way we will be conducting lots of press, conservation and community events. Please be sure to follow our social media channels as we will be trying to make our presence known along route and could be passing nearby! I am in charge of the social media channels from the field team, so I will be sharing images straight to my phone via the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app and sharing them across our social media channels (see below).
Once we are back in the UK we will be visiting some of the fantastic WWT nature reserves as well as holding other exciting UK events. We will be running various live broadcasts too so be sure to stay up to date! You can find all the latest information via our social media channels:
Next month I’ll be giving an update on the project, as well as offering a photo travel guide for the locations we have passed through. Our focus so far has been making as much time as possible, once we are all on the return leg then our media team can really get to work so I promise there will be plenty of photos to share in the next instalment.
Be sure to stay up to date! From Russia with love. 🙂