One woman's quest to help Bewick's swans on their annual migration

Helping Bewick's swans
Helping Bewick's swans 02:07

In skies over the arctic, there are dwindling numbers of swans are making their annual migration to northern europe. But there is a British conservationist who is taking flight to save the birds.

Europe’s magestic Bewick’s swans have an unlikely new copilot.

Forty-one-year-old Sacha Dench -- with the help of a motorized paraglider -- is joining their seasonal migration south. It’s a 4,000 mile journey that begins in Russia’s Arctic north and ends in England.

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Her mechanical wings are part of a bold effort to save the endangered species from the growing threat below. Hundreds are illegally shot out of the sky each year, and land they breed in is being built on.

We spoke with Sacha via Skype during the first leg of her expedition in the Russian tundra.

It’s “not possible” to drive or walk, Sacha says. 

The only people up there are reindeer breeders who whose sleds and reindeer. And it’s those reindeer breeders -- along with fisherman and farmers -- she’s come all this way to share the story of the swans decline.

“They want to know, so I’m able to tell them all of the data, why we know the swans are declining, how much research we’ve done and they are really interested in that,” Sacha says. 

At 35 miles an hour, Sacha can fly just as fast as her feathered subjects -- at that rate the trip will take three months. When the birds rest, so does she, often staying with locals along the way.

If her flight sounds familiar, that because it is: In the 1996 movie Fly Away Home, a young Anna Paquin takes to the sky to save an abandoned flock of geese.

CBS Evening News

Sacha’s flight is not based on the movie. But in a way she is the Bewick’s swan’s Mother Goose...

“This is just a conservation problem that we are causing, and we can fix it,” Sacha says. “And if you share the right information with the right people, and ask the right question.”

A man made problem,  one woman is taking to the skies to end.