March 11, 2019


BROTHER TO THE SWAN (FARLEY MOWAT, 5/16/55. Sports illustrated)

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.

Posted by at March 11, 2019 12:00 AM