Slimbridge is situated north of Bristol, very close to the Severn estuary, and is home to many different types of birdlife. It was founded in 1946, by Sir Peter Scott.
Our coach arrived at Slimbridge at 11:15, giving us time to meet the others of the party who had arrived by car, to have a coffee or have an initial look around the reserve.
We split into two parties of twelve for the guided tour of the Scott’s house. The volunteers told us about Peter Scott’s earlier life, as a hunter and painter, his wartime career, as an Olympic sailing medallist, but he is best known for his passion for preserving wild life, founding the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, and especially for creating the World Wildlife Fund.
Scott’s whole house borders a man-made lake, where Berwick Swans and many kinds of other waterfowl were only a few yards from the windows. I looked down, and there was a snipe only four or five feet away.
We were shown the Scott’s kitchen, looking very much of the 1950’s, with its range and an old-fashioned Belling 2 ring cooker. There were hand-written notes inside the cupboards and in notebooks and it looked as though the family could return at any moment.
We saw the dining room with its one long table, but were told that the Scotts usually ate on the small formica table in the bay window, where they could watch the birds.
We were also shown the study, where Lady Phillipa Scott had most of her effects and paintings.
Perhaps the most interesting room was familiar to any of us who had seen Peter Scott’s programmes on the television, with its painting easel, the wide panoramic view across the lake, and the extraordinary window which was built out in front of the house and extends about 8 feet in each direction, allowing an additional 6 of 7 people to enjoy the view, but not be in the room!
The tour took about 1 hour, and, as we were heading back to the main visitor centre, the guides asked us what we thought – as we were the first visitors to the house since the renovation! We have Peter Day (as chairman of the WWT) to thank for that privilege.
After the tour some of us went off to hear a talk about the re-introduction of the European Crane into the country (a couple of them could be seen skulking about on the other side of the pond) and then on to watch the otters being fed and playing in the water. These were North American otters rather than European, as European otters are nocturnal.
Other members of the party were more adventurous and walked across the flat site to one of the hides, where knowledgeable WWT volunteers pointed out interesting sites across the panorama. These included cranes beyond the sea wall, godwits, curlew, knot, dunlin, linnet with it’s distinctive “puppet on a string” flight pattern, an array of ducks and a fantastic fly past by a skein of geese at eye height and within metres away.
The coach left Slimbridge at 3:30 and we had a swift and pleasant journey back. Jonathan Pegler thanked Peter Day and David Powell for arranging such a successful trip.