Our history

It all started one day on the banks of the River Severn in Gloucestershire, with one remarkable man’s vision.

Sir Peter Scott was the son of Antarctic explorer Captain Scott who, in his dying letter, urged Peter’s mother to “make the boy interested in natural history”.

Peter particularly loved the wild open marshes of Britain and the mysterious geese that visited from unknown shores. He learned to protect first the birds, and then their wetland habitats.

In 1946 he set up the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust at Slimbridge as a centre for science and conservation. Uniquely at the time, he opened it to the public so that anyone could enjoy getting close to nature.

Peter and his family presented the BBC’s first live television wildlife programmes from his artist’s studio overlooking the lakes at Slimbridge, from where he brought a love for the British countryside into millions of homes.

As well as setting up WWT, he became an Olympic sailing medallist and a well-known painter and broadcaster. He created the IUCN red list which measures whether species are threatened or endangered. He was the founding chair of WWF – he even drew their famous panda logo.

WWT flourished during Peter’s life and has continued his life’s work since his death in 1989. We now welcome a million visitors each year to ten Wetland Sites in the UK, and we undertake more research and conservation projects around the world than ever.

Though the challenges facing wetlands and the world may be more daunting than Peter could ever have imagined, everyone at WWT tries to approach them with a resourcefulness and positivity we hope he would approve of.

WWT landmarks

1946

Peter Scott opens Slimbridge, the first of nine WWT Wetland Centres across the UK.

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 just 30. The world population is now over 2,000.

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 Wetland Centre is designated a Ramsar site for the international importance of the wildlife there – the Centre enables people from towns and cities in the North West of England to experience the special wildlife up close.

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. It provides an oasis for wildlife and a place of tranquillity for people in the heart of London's suburbs.

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 to bring communities across the East of England close to the thousands of migratory birds who share the Fens with them.

2009

WWT brings Madagascar pochards into captivity to prevent imminent extinction (just 25 remain in the wild). There are now 50 in the breeding programme and we're rehabilitating a potential release site.

2010

The 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.

2013

A three-year project begins to give help 60,000 UK schoolchildren connect with nature by providing schools in disadvantaged areas with free learning experiences at WWT Wetland Centres.

2013

WWT's aviculturists hand-rear 16 spoon-billed sandpiper chicks in northern Russia, which boosts the global number of fledglings by a quarter. In case they don't make it, a small reserve flock is being raised at Slimbridge.

2014

Steart Marshes, a created tidal wetland, is completed as the sea wall is breached and tide covers the land for the first time in over a hundred years. The site was built to protect local communities from flooding, store carbon and provide a home for wetland wildlife.

2016

The historic Flight of the Swans Expedition takes place from September to December, following Sacha Dench as she paramotors the migration route of the Bewick’s swan to raise awareness of the challenges they face.

2016

WWT gives evidence to MPs on flood prevention using wetlands as part of the Blueprint for Water coalition, gaining greater recognition of this nature based solution.

2016

WWT becomes a formal partner of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ CEPA programme, committing to communicate the benefits of wetlands worldwide on the global stage.

2017

An innovative, Chelsea Flower Show award-winning rain garden is installed at Martin Mere.

2017

Sir David Attenborough launches the Big Butterfly Count at London Wetland Centre.

2018

In Madagascar, WWT and Durrell reintroduced one of the world’s rarest birds, the Madagascar pochard, into the wild for the first time. 21 ducklings were released in a special floating aviary.

2019

Crane breeding pairs hit 54, their highest numbers in years, as the Great Crane Project is declared a resounding success so far.

2020

WWT launch a wetland home learning programme and other digital experiences to support members during lockdown.

2020

Lead ammunition is banned in EU wetlands following an evidence and comms campaign by WWT and partners.

2021

WWT launched its Blue Recovery strategy and its first ever national awareness campaign, Wetlands Can!