Sir Peter Scott is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in British conservation. He has been described by Sir David Attenborough as ‘The patron saint of conservation’. Greatness and an interest in nature was in his blood, as the son of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott – who died when he was just two years old. In the Captains dying days, he wrote a letter to his mother to asking her to ‘make the boy interested in natural history’.
True to his father’s dying wish, Sir Peter Scott took a keen interest in the geese that arrived from other lands, and learned how to protect and conserve their natural habitat. In 1946, he opened up the Wildfowl and Wetlands trust at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire, not only to protect the birds and their natural wetland habitat, but he opened it up to the public, so that they too could enjoy being close to nature and learning about the natural world.
With his passion and desire to protect the natural world, Sir Peter soon turned his eyes to the rest of the worlds bird population. In 1962, the first hand-reared nene was released into its new home in Hawaii – this was the start of a change in fortunes of the bird’s worldwide population – it had dropped to only 30 – it is now at over 2000 in the wild! Not stopping there, he campaigned to drop plans for a dam to be built in Thjorsarver in Iceland, due to it being the main breeding area for pink footed geese – the plans were dropped in 1969. His efforts didn’t go un-noticed – he was knighted for his efforts for conservation in 1973.
Not only a keen conservationist, but also a talented artist, his passion can clearly be seen through his work, which is on display at Slimbridge, and Sir Peter Scott’s studio, where he would spend hours drawing and painting, is now the CEO’s office. Many other artists and wildlife enthusiasts come to see Peter Scott’s detailed drawings and oil paintings – he once put together a book where he sketched or painted the faces of every individual Bewicks swan that came to the reserve – he knew them all by name! Many come and are inspired by the paintings, with their incredible attention to detail. Specialising in bronze animal sculptures, Gill Parker is a local artist who also is inspired by nature, like Sir Peter Scott – her website http://www.gillparker.com shows all of her beautiful creations.
When Slimbridge first opened its doors to the public, it was one of a kind – typically, at the time, nature reserves were strictly out of bounds to the general public – Sir Peter felt that if the public were able to come and see the birds, all together and up close, it would encourage far more people to take an interest in nature and conservation – and ultimately to continue his good work. He set up the organisation based on four pillars of conservation – research, education, conservation, and recreation. He was right – Slimbridge is not only still going strong today, but also continues to educate people, not only on the plight of the worlds birds and wetlands, but on conservation as a whole, and the global issues affecting the environment.
It is clear how popular Slimbridge was – and still continues to be – with the public. There are now nine wetlands centres all over the UK, including Slimbridge, all carrying on Sir Peter Scott’s lasting legacy – and welcoming over 1 million visitors every year!