A visit to Slimbridge

Spike Millington, Chief Executive of EAAFP

As a teenager growing up in England, a friend’s father used to take us on annual mid-winter trips to Slimbridge the home of the then Wildfowl Trust. The last time I visited was in 1969 and we saw Bewick’s Swan’s flighting into the lakes and White-fronted Geese on the Dumbles saltmarsh. Peter Scott, the founder of the Trust was around in those days and I once remember us kids quizzing him on whether we could “count” the Gadwall on the ponds as a wild species. He said we could. So we did!

Overview of the grounds

Overview of the grounds

With Martin Spray in Peter Scott's old studio

With Martin Spray in Peter Scott’s old studio

On 11th April this year, I went back to Slimbridge, now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), a founding EAAFP Partner! Peter Scott is now, sadly, gone. But his study, largely unchanged, is now occupied by Martin Spray, the Chief Executive, overlooking the Rushy Pen, where wild Bewick’s Swans come to feed in the winter. Martin had said I would find Slimbridge much changed from 1969 and in many ways this is the case, with an impressive new visitor centre and landscaped grounds. But WWT staff still work in the original old buildings and much of the former character is retained. One thing that seemingly hadn’t changed was the driving rain, but between the showers I was taken on a closely-chaperoned tour of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper breeding facility. This is a very impressive series of predator-proof pens where the breeding habitat is carefully re-created to encourage birds to nest. Unfortunately, despite the amorous intentions of the male birds, including making nest scrapes, the females are apparently not interested (something else I also remember from my teenage years in England!). In an enclosure behind the Spoonies I noticed a group of Baer’s Pochards, a rapidly declining species that is the focus of an EAAFP Task Force, led by WWT. The Trust is also very active in the EAAFP Scaly-sided Merganser Task Force, as well as developing programs in several East Asian-Australasian Flyway countries, including China and Cambodia, and an Asia-wide wetland centre initiative (Wetland Link International Asia). In fact a delegation from China’s State Forestry Administration is due to visit Slimbridge in May to renew their cooperation agreement with WWT.

the original design for the WWF logo, also now an EAAFP Partner!

The original design for the WWF logo, also now an EAAFP Partner!

With Chris Rostron, of Wetland Link International

With Chris Rostron, of Wetland Link International

It was very good to see old friends on their home turf instead of in EAAFP Partner meetings or wetland conferences and I would like to thank the WWT staff for the welcome to Slimbridge and the chance to discuss EAAFP issues. Maybe I’ll be back in another 45 years!

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