Great Scott! – Slimbridge, the birthplace of modern conservation

17 03 2012

Sir Peter Scott (1909 – 1989)

‘…make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games’ – Sir Robert Falcon Scott – Polar Explorer (in his last letter to his wife)

‘He was crucial to the whole development of WWF… he was a brilliant communicator… his television programmes in the 1950s and ‘60s were in those years, as popular, as convincing, as David Attenborough’s are now.’ – Duke of Edinburgh

‘The Scott partnership (Sir Peter & his wife Philippa) put conservation on the map, at a time when conservation was not a word most people understood.’ – Sir David Attenborough


I’m not quite sure what happened to this week, since I dropped Chris off at Cheltenham coach station at 06.00, last Saturday.

She has been enjoying temperatures of 28˚C in Spain, on her final European education conference, and is due back around midnight tonight, by taxi, so I can enjoy a few pints down at the King’s Head with ‘PC Roy’, hopefully watching England Rugby’s young guns upset the St Paddy’s day celebrations – we’ll see!

Washing in, sprayed the polish and flicked a duster, shunted the Dyson around, so time for a Saturday morning bacon butty and coffee while I try to catch up with the week’s events…

Last Sunday morning, Spring sprung. It was unseasonably warm and sunny. I had my old Dad over for a long weekend and decided it was an ideal opportunity to enjoy a run over to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge.    

We waddled around together enjoying Sir Peter Scott’s legacy  – ‘the birthplace of modern conservation’, which opened 65 years ago last November, in the wetlands bordering the Severn estuary and Gloucester-Sharpness Canal. 

It covers 3 square km, with 500,000 square m open to visitors, and was the first of eight such centres, established by the WWT charity, to care for and study ducks, geese and swans from around the world.

An early success story in the 1950s was the saving of the Nene (Hawaiian Goose) from extinction. In the entrance foyer, there is a wonderful painting by Scott, of a flock of Nene in flight. It is typical of his work, which is often derided outside of ornithological circles. But his artistic talent allowed him to fund many of his environmental projects.

Painting was just one of Scott’s many talents and interests and his potted biography makes fascinating reading:    

Sir Peter Scott  was the son of a national hero (Robert Falcon Scott – of the Antarctic), godson of JM Barrie (creator of Peter Pan), a war-time naval officer and holder of the Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry, Olympic yachtsman (bronze medallist at the 1936 Berlin Games), Americas Cup skipper (1964), British gliding champion (1963), naturalist, conservationist, founding chairman of the WWF, founder of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, wildlife painter (president of the Nature in Art Trust) and TV personality (presenting natural history series ‘Look’, from 1955-81).

Interestingly he also registered a scientific name, Nessiteras rhombopteryx, for the Loch Ness Monster, based on a blurred underwater photograph of a supposed fin, so that it could be listed as an endangered species. It was later found to be an anagram of ‘Monster hoax by Sir Peter S.   

It must be over 20 years since I last visited the Slimbridge WWT. It has always had a forward thinking, ‘hands on’, educational programme and I have accompanied parties of excited school children, around the centre, on many occasions.

It also hosted courses, for teachers, in environmental education. I remember attending one such training session in the late ‘80s. A group of us, engrossed in some practical activity or other, were joined by a frail looking old gent who seemed very interested in what we were doing.

At first we thought he was a member of the visiting public, but then the penny dropped – it was Sir Peter!   




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