- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
For 20 Years one of my hobbies has been bird watching. I've seen my share of rarities, but the rarest American birds I ever saw were on a stretch of marshy land in southern England. It was a June day. The soft spring air was filled with the comings and goings of ducks, and within easy distance of me were many of the species I had searched for in vain at home, including a flock of North American trumpeter swans which are the largest and rarest of all swans.
I was a little dazed, for within an area of about 20 acres sat, swam or flew the greatest collection of wild waterfowl ever assembled in one spot.
But possibly the strangest thing about it all was that I was standing in the heart of one of the busiest industrial areas in the world, almost within sight of the chimney smoke of the great port of Bristol and less than two hours' train ride from London. Jet planes screamed low overhead and traffic rumbled on the nearby highways, but the winged guests of the Severn Wildfowl Trust never turned a feather.
Slimbridge, the home of the Severn Wildfowl Trust, is on the shores of the busy Severn River in Gloucestershire. Through historic times this piece of soggy land, called The Dumbles, has been the private goose-hunting preserve of the Berkley family. Immense flocks of geese have wintered here for untold centuries. It was the presence of a flock of over 4,000 of them that led to the birth of what is undoubtedly the most unusual wildfowl sanctuary in existence anywhere, with 140 species of ducks, geese and swans from all over the world.
That was in 1946. Peter Scott, the famous painter of birds, had returned from the Royal Navy fired with a dream to establish a refuge for waterfowl on a brand-new plan, where scientists could work out research problems and at the same time the general public could have a chance to see the incredible diversity and beauty of the geese, ducks and swans of the world. Scott happened to be visiting Slim-bridge on that momentous winter day when the geese were milling over The Dumbles and saw at once that this was the perfect site for his experiment. In short order, he acquired a long-term lease on 25 acres of swampy reclaimed ground bordering a salt marsh.
He had the land, but little else. He had nothing but personal funds to begin his work. But he had the same kind of perseverance that called his father to the South Pole and into history; and he had the almost immediate support of the English people who are unique in the interest they take in wild beasts and birds. Some of Scott's friends began the immediate organization of a trust and the roster of those who joined included people like Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke, His Excellency Ahmed Abboud Pasha, a half dozen lords of the realm and, more important, several thousand ordinary citizens. The Trust took formal shape and Scott was named as Permanent Honorary Director. The list of supporters grew until it now includes Queen Elizabeth as patron.
All this was very wonderful, but the practical problems of establishing a new kind of bird sanctuary were immense. Scott knew what he wanted: the birds had to be almost as free as human visitors. The land was laid out into plots of varying size along a number of shallow drainage ditches running through the property. Each plot was surrounded by a low wire-mesh fence to keep out foxes and weasels, but there was no roof.
Then landscaping of these plots was begun. But the problem of money seemed insurmountable. Scott spent his own funds lavishly and earned further money by selling his paintings and lecturing (even now he draws no salary). Membership fees and donations had to make up the balance of the sum required, but these sources fell far short. Scott was not to be stopped. He managed to acquire the services of a gang of German prisoners awaiting repatriation and inspired them to the same kind of enthusiasm which motivated him.
Within a year the New Grounds (as the sanctuary area has been called since 1480) was fairly well in shape and already the birds had begun to take over the artificial ponds, swamps and streams.