VISIT | Finding Slimbridge Village beyond the Wetlands | Gloucestershire
Life Before Scott
Exploring the village of Slimbridge in Gloucestershire
Discovering the history of the place before Peter Scott's arrival
The Canal - The River - The Church - The Land
"...the place where birds came to be happy..."
It's ok to follow signs. Signs are good, informative and helpful. But sometimes signs carry you past the most interesting bits of a place. Take Slimbridge – the small village sat on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire. The signs from the mini-roundabout lead you on, beckon you forwards to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust whose headquarters lies at Shepherds Patch beyond the village of Slimbridge. So a merely follow of that iconic duck signs takes you onwards…
In 1946 Peter Scott set up the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge in Gloucestershire. Uniquely he opened the centre up for the public to see up close and personal the efforts to breed and protect wildfowl and wetlands that Scott loved. His house was central to the centre. From there Scott broadcast his passion to instil that in others.
It was affectionately referred to as the Severn Wildfowl Trust at first. Peter Scott worked with Captain Robert Berkeley, the local landowner on whose estate the pens, hides and decoys are set up – primarily for goose drives. But Scott instilled a bold idea to observe the habits and migration of these birds. One of the main decoys was originally built in 1843 and used until up 1929 – which was then re-designed by Scott with channels and screens.
The Trust built observation hides along the banks. Scott counted his birds along the riverbank on the home grounds. Scott had moved from a keen shooter on the marshes to drawing, studying and respecting his birds; and along the way he began to convince others. He originally used an old anti-invasion pillbox as a hide to study his birds.
In 1949, there was an attempt by the Royal Air Force to begin re-using an area of Frampton Sands, just up the river for use in bombing practice. The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust appealed and complained about the effect that planes would have on the local birds and migratory birds coming into the wetlands.
Like the bombing area of Frampton Sands on the Severn, Slimbridge existed before the wetlands. So what was life like here before?
At the church of St John the Evangelist, which most sprint past, there are curious remnants of Slimbridge life. A memorial from a rector to a son who fell in the First World War, Bernard Robert Hadow Carter.
In loving memory of Bernard Robert Hadow Carter
2nd Lieut. Royal Flying Corps
Third son of the Rector of this Parish
died at Llangefin, Anglesey
whilst on special War Service
7th November 1917, aged 19 years.
“Blest are the pure in heart”
During the Second World War, 300 acres of land was drained and re-claimed. It was used to grow potatoes and in 1943, girls from Colston Girls School in Bristol and Bath Girl’s School came and harvested over 200 tonnes of potatoes. They had fun at the same time – dipping their toes into the river at low tide, running along the canal; they were catered for by Italian internees from a cook’s battalion and served their breakfast, lunch and dinner in a converted cow shed. Women from the Land Army and men working the land were all part of this interesting experiment designed by maximise growing land for the war effort on the Home Front.
You can’t help but see the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal which vehicles, pedestrians and bike cross on the little swing bridge. If you time it right, the bridge is turned and you can watch the canal boats steadily chug by. The canal is a rather pretty walk. The canal is used now primarily for residential and holiday canal boats, with the odd heavy goods. But this canal was a late bloomer – begun in the 1790s and with a history of stop-start development. It ran out of money several times stopping it prematurely short of its planned end point. It relies on much of its water from the River Cam and follows much of its route alongside the river. But it cuts through the sharp meander around Frampton. Scott brought up a canal called the Beatrice to operate as a floating hostel for students coming to study the birds at the Slimbridge grounds. He gained a real understanding of the canals and waterways. But now you can wander the canal paths and watch as those birds fly in overhead.
Slimbridge estate including much of the land and former estates in the nearby area are owned by the Ernest Cook Trust. Once owned by Ernest Cook, grandson of Thomas Cook of travel agent fame, a philanthropist in his own right, it was then placed into a trust in 1952 along with many other estates; with the aim of providing educational experiences for young people. It inspires kids to understand and conserve the landscape, many children have seen fun in the forest schools on these estates.
So if you’re thinking of going to the bird place at Slimbridge, don’t forget the village itself and the landscape around it. Head for Slimbridge village in Gloucestershire off the A38 between Berkeley and Whitminster and take a second to see what Scott saw… the canal, the history, the drained flatlands and the village.
Scott remarked that whilst the Iron Curtain divided Europe in two during the latter part of the twentieth century, the geese flying from Russia could just cross it as ‘if it were not there.’ Slimbridge has no borders – no special pass to enter. A safe place for all wildfowl and wetland creatures. A place for us all.
Directions and Map |
Find Slimbridge village off the A38 near Cam in Gloucestershire with the church and village, hop on to the Gloucester-Sharpness Canal at Shepherd's Patch further down the lane towards the Slimbridge WWT