Back in the summer of 2017, already seeming like a long time ago, on a very wet day returning from visiting Tintagel, I re-visited the World Wildfowl Trust centre at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire. In a previous post I discussed the prehistoric allusions to the landscape, including prehistoric roundhouses and Mesolithic footprints. Here I want to discuss it as a landscape of memory focusing on a modern-day conservation ancestor cult.
As well as the ‘state-of-the-art’ Sir Peter Scott observatory, the captive and wild birds might be seen as living memorials to Sir Peter Scott’s conservation vision and his worldwide travels to learn about and depict wildfowl. Moreover, there are a range of other features to the landscape deployed to memorialise the great man. After all, he is the founder and modern-day ancestor of all ornithology including art and conservation. Sir David Attenborough once called him the patron saint of conservation. There is art of his in the visitor centre, displayed to commemorate his skill as an artist, as well as his work for, and love of, birds.
Scott’s pivotal bust is the principal means of commemoration. It is centrally placed within the centre at a point where many paths meet. He is described as ‘Painter and Naturalist’. His honours are listed. His key role as founder in 1946 of the Slimbridge centre is stated.
From his Wikipedia page it is clear that other WWT centres depict artistic representations of Scott to honour his life and works in conservation and art.
Meanwhile, while Scott is predominant at Slimbridge, this is a broader memorial landscape where others are afforded textual and material recognition in his mnemonic avian corona. Within some enclosures and along all principal paths, there are widespread memorial benches. They take different styles, representing their accumulation over decades. They are situated in isolation and in rows and other arrangements, thus composing the standard typical medium for the commemoration of dead patrons and supporters.
Finally, and most intriguing, there is also a First and Second world war memorial. It was raining so heavily my poor photograph of it is insufficient.
It is originally from West Down school where Scott attended, and it was created by Scott’s sculptor-mother Lady Kathleen. It comprises a naked boy, with hand raised as if to answer a question in class, or to demand the viewer approach the location, is a distinctive choice of statue for a war memorial. The gesture is made clearer by the text: ‘here I am, send me’ – surely to be read in combination with the statue as a demand on the viewer to approach, to witness, to acknowledge the sacrifice of a volunteer for patriotic service in the military.
Is this the dead soul of one or all of those whose names are listed, showing their persistence in patriotism after death? It’s all rather disturbing to find a naked boy’s form more expressive of British patriotism than any clothed and armed serviceman. I presume it was intended as a vicious and uncanny critique of British militarism, rather than some naive celebration of it?
Its present-day location is also distinctive, beside the playground at the far end of the enclosures.