From Scotland and Ireland to the coasts and waterways of west Africa, the osprey has watched over the landscapes and seascapes, connected people across all those lands, for millennia.
It should be a common bird right across its range.
Breeding in Europe, it once would have spent summers rearing young in tall trees along the great rivers of the Thames, the Trent, the Mersey, the Severn and the Tay, and many more besides. A sight that hasn’t been seen for decades. Each year a few keen eyes on their daily commute, will look up to spot them flying overhead scanning the land... they sometimes pause to rest or to catch a fish, and watch us and our curious new world, but they no longer stay. But why?
Reintroduced or returned by chance to small areas of Scotland, England, Switzerland, France, Spain...the osprey is now trying to make a comeback...with a lot of help from dedicated conservationists. We work with the most prominent researchers and organisations in species restoration, wetland conservation and public engagement.
In Autumn when the days turn colder, the birds head for Africa. A perilous journey across vast seas, mountain ranges and deserts, soaring on the thermal updrafts. In 2020 we will follow them, on a journey into the lives of the ospreys. The team of pilots, scientists, photographers and videographers, and local experts will share the story of their lives and the people working hard to help bring them back.
A bird of forest, wetlands, and sea...conservationists and scientists are doing their best, but what can the rest of us do to help bring them back?
It is all part of a broader story. Our own lives are more closely connected to the ospreys than we might imagine... the osprey is at the top of its food chain, and so by helping them we could help bring back the many other threatened species of birds, fish, the disappearing small invertebrates that all our lives depend on…
We’ve found a way of letting the birds tell their story...by flying with them. Flying in a paramotor (a paraglider with an engine attached), Sacha will lead a team across Europe and West Africa... following their journey through the skies and to give a bird’s eye view.
Why is this project urgently needed?
- Migratory birds are some of the most threatened animals on the planet, and the hardest to protect due to their reliance on multiple countries and many habitats.
- The trends of many of the waterbirds using this migratory flyway are in long-term decline, with a significant number globally threatened with extinction. Indeed, many are not monitored so we have no idea of their current status. This stresses the need for urgent conservation responses, at multiple levels.
- Threats to the birds include illegal hunting and persecution, pollution, entanglement in nets, collision with powerlines, habitat degradation, fish barriers in waterways etc. These threats can be directly addressed through generating mass awareness, political support for change, and promoting international collaboration.
- There are critical wetland habitats along this flyway that are not protected and which are being degraded. We have a window of time to change that before the damage is irreversible.
- Governments need to take urgent action to conserve and restore wetlands for wildlife and human health, and as a climate change adaptation strategy (wetlands store large quantities of carbon).
- Pollutants like pesticides, pharmaceuticals and plastics are a growing threat, and their potential impacts on the osprey and their food chain are an important part of the puzzle.
- This is a tried and tested model for conservation and engagement. The UN Convention on Migratory Species and its agencies have identified public engagement across flyways as critical to the conservation of migratory birds, and yet most efforts to do so, across geographical and political boundaries, fail. No other projects have delivered the results of ‘Flight of the Swans’.
- There are large stretches of this migration route where support is urgently needed for recruiting and training data collectors and observers, and influential champions for the natural world. These gaps must be filled if we are to achieve long term effective conservation for ospreys and other migrating birds.
- Local conservationists need extra national and international support. Implementing international agreements can be very difficult without raising the issues, over an extended period, in a very public way. Working with partners in each country, ‘Flight of the Osprey’ will begin this role in August 2019 across the year preceding the expedition, during the expedition, and will continue after the project through the film and local activity.
By the end of this project we will have achieved the following tangible outcomes:
- Engagement: we will have reached an audience of over 10 million people through building relations and sharing stories with local, national and international media (with a target of 2,000 media pieces).
- Reported reduction in persecution and illegal hunting of ospreys and other migratory birds, over the subsequent 3 years, at least in part through hunter-led initiatives.
- Greater protected status for wetlands: we will have helped to bring about increased protection of at least 3 important wetland stopover sites along the way, and have given local groups greater agency to continue this work at other sites.
- Data on the impacts of pollutants and plastics on wetland sites and migrating birds: we will have analysed the results of a wide range of plastic and pollutant sampling of the critical wetlands on the migratory route, which will benefit national and regional governments and conservationists (we will provide the results on an open access basis). Scientific results from the expedition will be published in international journals to make new findings available to the wider science and conservation communities.
- Increased landowner and public interest and support for greater wild areas in the UK, which would support ospreys and other wildlife, as well as contributing more generally to water and air quality, as well as human health.
- Data gaps in our wetland and waterbird censuses are able to be filled by newly identified and trained observers, for the first time providing a full picture of their population status.
- Resourcing wetland centres from Scotland to West Africa: better resourced centres will engage more people and attract more support. The Wetland Link International (WLI) network will have attracted at least 3 new wetland centres as members, and will have energised and engaged with existing WLI member centres.
- Schools and environmental centres: we will have conducted a programme available to all schools along the flyway, including the development of a digital ‘flyway’ for use in education, live following and interaction with the expedition.
- Leave a lasting legacy: by ensuring local conservation partners are fully involved in steering the project in their countries, we will have provided media assets, a film, and ongoing support for the year following the expedition.
- Share the messages globally: presentations will be given to governments and conservationists around the world, working on different flyways, in the following year to ensure the lessons learnt are broadly shared with the public and decision makers.
This crowdfunder will raise vital funds to enable us to build our partner network in the UK, Europe and West Africa, including essential research, as well as reconnaissance trips. We already have a significant volunteer team, and these funds will also mean we can offer them additional training and support.
Join us on a journey with the ospreys, as they show us their lives.
What pushed them to the brink of extinction?
And what can we all do to help bring them – and other migratory species - back?
Who is Sacha Dench?
Sacha has spent more than 20 years as a conservationist and communicator and is renowned for bridging the gap between science and the public, as a scientist, communications consultant for NGOs, found of volunteer groups and charity PR director.
Her last expedition, Flight of the Swans, engaged millions in the plight of the Bewick’s swan and was the inspiration behind founding Conservation Without Borders. The campaign inspired local groups – from hunters to farmers to schools – to take action that has created tangible conservation benefits, and generated over 1,700 broadcast and print pieces. The project won ENDS 2017 Environmental Campaign of the Year, led to Sacha being made a Woman of the Year and she became the first woman in 50 years to win the coveted Britannia Trophy for aviation.