Sacha has arrived in Belgium by paramotor this morning (Monday). With her record breaking channel crossing just round the corner, there is just time for Sacha to make a school visit and attend a meeting between Belgium paramotorists and conservationists. At the meeting they will be finalising an agreement to establish a no fly zone over important wetland sites in Belgium. Also attending this meeting will be Belgium paramotorist Benny Vangansewinkel.
Q Benny Vangansewinkel, what was your first reaction when you heard about the plan to fly the Bewick’s whole migration from Arctic Russia back to the UK?
As a farmer with all my meadows being farmed under ‘bird conservation management agreements’ in the north east of Belgium, I was delighted to be part of this project to follow the Bewick’s migration. I think it’s a great way to raise awareness of the problems migratory birds face on their annual journey.
Q The project will highlight how important it is for countries all along the birds’ flyway to collaborate. Do you think Sacha’s human flight alongside the migration of Bewick’s swans, will help get attention in Belgium?
I’m convinced that the 7,000 km long journey will make many people in Belgium think about the project. Those who like nature will see the birds they know in a different perspective. And all the pilots will be interested because they know and deeply respect the huge effort it must take for the birds to make this journey every year. In working together on this project, both conservationists and pilots will learn a lot and become more aware of each others concerns.
Q How do you think Flight of the Swans will help persuade Belgium people to want to save Bewick’s swans?
If we can get the press and social media to give attention to Sacha’s epic journey, it’s a way to make more people aware of the obstacles and challenges the swans face in our own country during their journey.
Q What are the challenges of flying in your country?
It’s easy to find places to land in Belgium. For me, the biggest challenge will be to bring the paramotor pilots and the conservationists from the three conservation areas together, so they can learn to respect each other and find out about each others concerns. I hope this will result in a joint agreement that we can hand over to Sacha when she arrives in our area.
Q What sort of landscapes will we be flying over during our time in Belgium?
Sacha will fly over the plains in West Vlaanderen. These fields were reclaimed from areas that once belonged to the sea. Some creeks are witnesses of the history. After centuries of deposition of sand and other material, they transformed into wetlands with mudflats and salt marshes; a perfect habitat for migratory birds!
Q Why have you offered to help out with the Flight of the Swans project?
I started my career as a dairy farmer. Even in those days I was already very aware of the problems meadowbirds were facing. I took all kinds of measures to help the lapwings, godwit and curlew. After I stopped the dairy farm, I converted all my fields to managed meadows. Now I mow the meadows after the 15th of July so the birds have plenty of time to raise their chicks in my fields. The hay I harvest from these bio diverse meadows makes very good horse feed. I currently combine this with a job in landscape management, where I work with other farmers helping them to maintain or plant hedges, dig wildlife friendly ponds etc. My hobbies of paramotor flying and photography make a perfect match for this project.
Q What part of the expedition are you most excited about?
The thing I am looking forward to most is the channel crossing, flying by paramotor from near Calais to Dover. Not an everyday undertaking! Good luck with your journey Sacha!