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Spoon-billed Sandpiper

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Our history

Peter Scott at Slimbridge Wetland CentreThe Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) was founded in 1946 by the naturalist and artist, the late Sir Peter Scott.

Sir Peter Scott was a visionary conservationist and recognised the importance of taking action to save wetlands and their wildlife as well as encouraging the public to care about the natural world.

He pioneered the notion that conservation education should be uplifting and fun for people of all ages and believed wetlands should be enjoyed as well as treated with respect. Hence his creation of Slimbridge Wetland Centre, the birthplace of WWT located on the estuary of the River Severn.

Nenes and Bewick's

One of Sir Peter Scott and WWT’s early conservation triumphs was the reintroduction of the Hawaiian goose (also known as the nene) to Hawaii. In 1952 only 30 of these geese were thought to remain due to the introduction of predators such as mongooses and cats. Intensive work brought their numbers in the wild up to an estimated 800 and captive numbers up to 1,000.

WWT have also done much work with the Bewick’s swan, a species that Sir Peter Scott began studying at Slimbridge in 1964. He found that individual swans could be identified by their bill patterns and began what now – over 45 years later – is one of the world’s longest running studies of a single species.

The research was groundbreaking in terms of what it taught us about migration and the social relationships of birds and it meant that when Bewick’s numbers went into decline in 1979, studies could be done to find out why.

Slimbridge and other centres

From the founding of WWT and Slimbridge followed the creation of a further eight UK wetland reserves, which today make up 2,600 hectares of nationally and globally important wetland habitat.

Not only do our reserves help to sustain vulnerable wildlife, but by opening them up to the public WWT also aims to enthuse people about wetlands – an important mission since the last millennium saw about 90% of the UK’s wetlands disappear.

Furthermore, they have inspired the creation of similar reserves in other parts of the world, including China and the Middle East.

Helping wildlife and people

Today WWT’s work is supported by a growing membership base of over 200,000. Over 60 years of experience is being put to vital use with initiatives to save endangered bird species such as the Madagascar pochard and the red-breasted goose, as well as wetland habitats worldwide.

We work with people too, including communities and individuals overseas, helping to provide safe water through wetland creation and reduce potential for flooding.

And as climate change continues to create problems for our environment, we’re working to reduce emissions through the creation of carbon-storing wetlands and supporting the development of environmentally sustainable renewable energy. This includes our research into the best places to site offshore wind turbines.

WWT’s landmark achievements

1962 - The first Slimbridge-reared nene is released into the wild in Hawaii marking the start of the recovery of the world nene population, which had fallen to 30.

1969 - Plans to build a dam at the main area for breeding pink-footed geese in Thjorsarver, Iceland are dropped after successful lobbying by WWT.

1973 – Sir Peter Scott is knighted for his services to conservation.

1985 – WWT’s Martin Mere site, created in 1975, is designated a Ramsar site.

1993 - The main white-headed duck wintering site at Burdur Golu, Turkey is formally protected following a collaborative study initiated by WWT.

1999 - The long-term protection of barnacle geese at Caerlaverock by WWT and others enables the Svalbard barnacle goose population to reach 25,000 after dropping to just 300 in 1948.

2000 - The WWT London Wetland Centre is opened and becomes one of the largest created wetland reserves in a capital city in the world.

2003 - Carmarthen Bay is declared the UK's first marine Special Protection Area after WWT surveys show its importance for common scoters.

2005 - The Laysan teal, one of the most endangered species of duck in the world, is reintroduced to Hawaii with the help of WWT.

2006 - WWT opens a new eco-friendly £3.5 million visitor centre at Welney.

2010The Great Crane Project successfully hand-rears and releases 21 Eurasian cranes into the wild in England. The species has been absent in the UK for 400 years following wetland draining and hunting.