« The Trilogy Of Love | Main | Nut Sa Daft »

Here In Africa: Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust

...Scott’s attempt to protect and nurture the thousands of migrating birds in this area has, over the years, matured into a vitally important link in the bird migratory routes from as far afield as Siberia and Kazakhstan to southern Europe, north and South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, and it is encouraging to note that the success of Slimbridge has led to the creation of six more areas in Britain and one in Scotland which help to preserve and consolidate the world’s wild bird population...

Barbara Durlacher tells of the Slimbridge Wildfowl Sanctuary and its founder Sir Peter Scott.

Writing about notable people can be difficult, as unless one has unlimited resources, gaps or misstatements can inadvertently occur. It is with this proviso that I hope allowances will be made for what I don’t know, and that this story conveys some of the interest and inspiration I found on a recent short visit to Slimbridge Wildfowl Sanctuary.

Situated on an estuary of the River Severn, Slimbridge began as the brainchild of Peter Scott, (later Sir Peter) only child of Robert Falcon Scott of South Pole fame and Katherine Kennett, a notable sculptress. In an early letter from Robert to his wife, written while on the ill-fated expedition to the Pole, he advised her to ‘get the boy interested in natural history’ and perhaps it was this, as well as an increasing awareness of the fragility of the natural world and growing threats to the environment that spurred Scott on to use his talents as a wildlife and bird artist, to foster what became a lifelong passion and create the first wildfowl and water-bird sanctuary in Britain.

Scott’s attempt to protect and nurture the thousands of migrating birds in this area has, over the years, matured into a vitally important link in the bird migratory routes from as far afield as Siberia and Kazakhstan to southern Europe, north and South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, and it is encouraging to note that the success of Slimbridge has led to the creation of six more areas in Britain and one in Scotland which help to preserve and consolidate the world’s wild bird population.

One of the tasks undertaken at Slimbridge is the incubation of eggs, and hand-rearing of Demoiselle Cranes. Numbers of these birds have been decreasing in the past years due to habitat destruction and industrial pollution, and it is only after much dedicated work by professionals and volunteers in Britain and other countries that the species is gradually increasing.

An important part of hand-rearing crane chicks is to prevent them from becoming ‘human habituated’ as, if they do, they will not form their own ‘clan’ flocks or learn to feed themselves. Teaching them to feed is nearly as time consuming as rearing a human infant, and to do this, volunteers wear an all-over white garment which vaguely resembles a mature bird. Head covered in a balaclava-shaped helmet with a netted face, the volunteer walks quietly around the enclosure for a couple of hours each day, feeding pellets through a bird-shaped wand and uttering special bird noises when indicating a tasty morsel to the young bird.

A similar study in the USA has also succeeded in hand rearing Whooping Cranes, America’s largest crane species, and after much dedicated work most of the young chicks are reaching maturity. Having been artificially reared without flock elders to teach them the ancestral flight paths, each autumn pilots from Operation Migration lead a new generation of cranes behind their ultralight aircraft to their wintering grounds in Florida. A few months later as part of an adult group, the birds make the return flight back to the Upper Midwest, and to the delight of the dedicated volunteers, there are reports are that the first wild crane chick has now hatched in southern Florida. To date 68 cranes have been reared and taught to migrate in this way.

Facilities at Slimbridge cover many different interests, from ‘touchy-feely’ areas where small children can get acquainted with other creatures to shallow ponds where they can experience the simple joys of playing about in water, to the use of motorised mobility scooters for the disabled and a field study centre for the serious student. With an adventure play area for the smaller fry to an observation tower for studying migrating birds and a lecture/film theatre for talks and lectures and a spacious restaurant, there is something at Slimbridge for everyone. Set in well-cared for but not over manicured grounds, Slimbridge makes a wonderful day’s outing for young and old.

After describing his achievements, it is important to also give some background about the remarkable man who founded Slimbridge, and here are a few facts about a life filled with notable achievements.

Sir Peter Markham Scott, CH, CBE, DSC, FRS, FZS was born in 1909 and was nearly 80 when he died in 1989 after an eventful life. Named after Sir Clements Markham, mentor of his father’s polar expeditions, his godfather was J M Barrie, the playwright and creator of Peter Pan. His life was one of great talent, foresight and breadth of vision, and covered not only his wildlife interests, but also a passion for the sea and flying. Half-brother to Wayland Young, now Lord Kennet, he inherited his artistic talent from his mother Kathleen Kennet, a notable sculptor, and had his first art exhibition in 1933 at which everything was sold.

Two years later he represented Britain at sailing in the 1936 Olympic Games and during World War II received the DSC for bravery for his command of his wooden-walled torpedo boat in the English Channel fighting against German ‘E’-boats.

After the war he founded the Severn Wildfowl Trust (renamed the Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust) and in 1948 became well-known on television popularising the study of wildfowl and the conservation of wetlands.

His first marriage to the famous author Elizabeth Jane Howard produced a daughter. After they divorced he married again and fathered another daughter who is a well-known wildlife painter.

He became British Gliding Champion in 1963 and as an accomplished sailor he won an Olympic Bronze Medal for single-handed dinghy sailing. He also skippered the British yacht Sovereign in 1964 for the America’s cup, and although they were not successful it was widely agreed that the American boat was built to a more streamlined design.

In 2004 he and David Attenborough were profiled in a BBC Two series The Way We Went Wild about television wildlife presenters. He wrote and illustrated 20 books on wildlife as well as his biography Eye of the Wind.

Scott founded the World Wildlife Fund for Nature and also designed their well-known Panda logo. He served as Rector of Aberdeen University from 1960 to 1963 and was elected Chancellor of the University of Birmingham from 1973 to 1983.

Categories

Creative Commons License
This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License.