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Peter Scott - a remarkable life

Malcolm Ogilvie

To be born the son of a national hero who died in tragic circumstances might have been enough to blight anyone's subsequent life, but not Peter Scott's, son of the ill-fated polar explorer, Captain Scott. For sheer versatility and ability to succeed at so many activities, his life is hard to beat. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to decide what he is best remembered for. One can choose between his evocative paintings of ducks, geese and swans flying across magnificent skies, the long series of radio and television broadcasts, especially 'Look', which did so much to introduce natural history to the British public, his creation of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, his role in founding the WorldWide Fund for Nature, and the many books, or perhaps it is all of them and more. (Photo, right, © Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust)

His sporting achievements are worth considering, too. To be a fine ice skater capable of winning competitions, to win an Olympic Bronze medal for single-handed dinghy sailing and to become British Open Gliding Champion not only argues a certain competence at whatever he chose to take up, but highlights the drive and determination to succeed which always marked him out. These qualities also came to the fore during the war when he commanded a gunboat in the English Channel and won the DSC. He didn't always succeed, everyone has failures and one which he felt for a long time afterwards was when he skippered the America's Cup yacht 'Sovereign' in 1964 and suffered a whitewash 4-0 defeat. The fact that the American boat was genuinely a faster boat was little consolation.

My own memories of Peter come from 25 years working for the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge, from 1960. During that period, Peter was not responsible for the day to day running on the organisation, but he was always there with, cajoling and enthusing the staff. Ideas poured out of him, some brilliant, some that seemed completely impractical, though even those might be pursued and found, infuriatingly, to be perfectly practical after all! Most of all, though, he was friendly and approachable. There was always a two-way flow of communication. Phone calls might summon me at any time to go along to his studio in his house overlooking the wildfowl pens to hear his latest idea, but equally I could pick up the phone and ask if I could pop along to discuss an idea of mine or consult a book in his library.

His was, indeed, a remarkable life.

Editor's note - You may discover more of the work of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust by visiting their website at www.wwt.org.uk

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Dr Ogilvie is a natural history writer and editor, formerly a research scientist with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and resident on the island of Islay since 1986. Until 1997, a member of the 'British Birds' editorial board and also one of the editorial team which produced 'Birds of the Western Palearctic'.