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13 Feb 2018

Sky’s the limit! Conservationist who conquered fear of flying bags prestigious aviation award

Posted in Latest news

WWT’s Sacha Dench has been awarded the coveted Britannia Trophy for her record-breaking solo 7000km journey by paramotor across the endangered Bewick’s swans’ migratory route.

The 42-year-old began paramotoring after joining WWT in 2009 following a terrifying plane flight through a severe thunderstorm in Panama which left her afraid of flying.

Surrounded by birds in flight at WWT’s headquarters in Gloucestershire, Sacha vowed to beat her phobia and threw herself into her new hobby. She eventually gained enough confidence to fly from the swans’ breeding ground in Arctic Russia to their wintering site at Slimbridge Wetland Centre to raise awareness of the bird’s decline.

No woman as an individual has won the Royal Aero Club’s Britannia Trophy for commendable aerial performance since 1967. Sacha is the first woman to paramotor solo across the English Channel.

Previous winners of the award include Richard Branson and the much-revered Red Arrows.

Sacha, a WWT conservationist, said:

“I’m still in shock! I only started paramotoring to cure my fear of flying after a plane I was travelling on in Panama flew into a storm and couldn’t find anywhere to land. I thought it was curtains until the pilot thankfully found a clearing.

“As I work on the conservation of migratory birds at WWT every day, I knew I had to overcome this fear and it turns out paramotoring was the remedy I needed. I never imagined I would one day have the confidence to fly alongside them on the very route our endangered Bewick’s swans battle each year, even less that I’d happily take on the harsh, challenging and turbulent conditions of their autumn migration.

“It is such an honour to be selected for this award. The campaign was a tremendous achievement for everyone involved. I had a brilliant team behind me and I share this trophy with all of them.”

Sacha was nominated for the award by the British Hang gliding and Paramotoring Society (BHPS).

Marc Asquith, Chairman of the BHPS and Vice President of the Royal Aero Club, said:

“As an effective tool for publicity to raise the profile of the Bewick’s swan, and to reveal mankind’s unwitting damage to the basis of their existence, it is unparalleled. And as a demonstration of sheer determination, flying solo on a tiny machine from above the Arctic Circle to the relative warmth of southern Britain, this odyssey has few equals.”

Sacha will be presented with the Britannia Trophy at the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly, London in May.