Peter Scott was just 2 years old when his father, the Naval officer and Antartic explorer Robert Falcon Scott died in the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition. In his father’s last letter to his mother, a talented sculptor (she had been a student of Rodin), he said: “make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.”
The advice worked. Peter said he grew up never not knowing about natural history. He had a menagerie of pets growing up and spent a good part of his childhood watching in the forest, field, and shore. When he went to college, he kept an aviary that took up half the space in his room.
Despite knowing a lot about wildlife, he found himself spinning his wheels in college as a Zoology major. After hours spent dissecting dead animals and taking no pleasure in the process, he had a sudden revelation: “Instead of a scientist, I would be an artist…I have never regretted this great and momentous decision, for at one sweep my whole outlook on life was changed and enlarged…Perhaps I was going to complete after all…”
After graduating, Peter focused on painting birds. It may seem paradoxical that at the same time he would also shoot wildlife, but his thoughts about wildfowling would undergo a 180 degree change in 1932. On an expedition with a friend, he discovered two geese that were injured, but not killed.
In researching this story, I contacted a member of the Scott family to verify that he was indeed dyslexic (he was). The list of his accomplishments are extraordinary, but also somewhat ‘familiar’ for those who study extraordinary dyslexic families.
As a young officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, Peter distinguished himself with bravery in many actions and evacuation of the 51st Highland Division. He won a Distinguished Service Cross.
In addition, Peter was credited with developing the Western Approaches camouflage system that allowed boats to approach 6 miles further before being detected.
After the war, Peter founded the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and helped save the Hawaiian nene goose from extinction by a captive breeding program.
Later Peter also founded the World Wildlife Fund and also helped design its logo, the panda.
In what may be the world’s longest animal research study, the WWT’s Bewick’s swan study is celebrating its 50th year anniversary. Research identify swans by their faces and could learn, for instance, that Casino had 27 cygnets and Sarindi and Sarundi got ‘divorced’ but made other partners and happily coexisted on the same pond. Above are some of the notebook paintings by Peter.
“Peter Scott was a brilliant communicator in so many different ways. He had a loose leaf page for each endangered species, separated in proper categories, how endangered they were, what was known, as a basis for action.
“Maybe it was partly his training in the war; he had a very organised mind and he just realised that the scientific basis of conservation and trying to help endangered species was crucially important – so the facts were important, and this was a wonderful visual way of getting facts across to people.”