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Scott, Sir Peter Markham, 1909-1989 (Knight, painter, ornithologist and broadcaster)



  • Existence: 1909 - 1989


Peter Markham Scott was born in London on 14 September 1909, the son of the famous Antarctic explorer, Captain Robert Falcon Scott. He was two years old when his father died with his companions on their return journey from the South Pole in 1912. His mother Kathleen (née Bruce; later Lady Kennet), a sculptor, was re-married in 1922, to Edward Hilton Young (later Lord Kennet of the Dene). Scott attended Oundle School near Peterborough before entering Trinity College Cambridge in 1927 to read Natural Sciences. In his third year he changed direction entirely, opting to study the History of Art and Architecture. He left Cambridge in 1930 with an Ordinary BA Degree in History of Art and Botany and enrolled at the State Academy of Arts in Munich. On returning from Germany in July 1931 he gained a place at the Royal Academy School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and remained there for two years. At Cambridge Scott spent a considerable part of his time painting, usually wildfowl studies, and also became an enthusiastic wildfowler in the Norfolk estuaries and marshes. He found that his imagination was stimulated by observing living birds in their wetland environment, rather than by the formal study of Natural Sciences. His fascination with wetlands and their wildfowl endured for the rest of his life, profoundly influencing his painting and, later, much of his work as a conservationist. From 1933 to 1940 Arthur Ackermann & Son held highly successful annual exhibitions of Scott's paintings. During these years he rented East Lighthouse at the mouth of the River Nene in order to paint and collect wildfowl. His first book, Morning Flight, an account of his years in East Anglia and the Fens with his own illustrations, was published by Country Life in 1935. In World War Two Scott served in the Royal Navy, at first seeing action in the Battle of France and the Battle of the Atlantic, 1940-1942. He later reached the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in the Steam Gunboat Flotilla of the Coastal Forces and took part in some notable engagements in the English Channel. Three times mentioned in dispatches, he received an MBE in 1942 and a DSC in 1943. Immediately after resigning from the Royal Navy he stood as a Conservative and National Candidate in the 1945 General Election, narrowly failing to win the Wembley North seat. In 1946 Scott founded the Severn Wildfowl Trust (now the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) at Slimbidge, Gloucestershire, to develop his earlier idea of forming a single collection of all the world's species of ducks, geese and swans - the Anatidae family. A non-profit making organisation, its aims were the conservation and public display of wildfowl and scientific research on species and wetland habitats. The Trust's work in the catching and ringing of wild geese, for which Scott pioneered the 'rocket-netting' technique, enabled extensive studies of their populations and migrations to be made. In the early 1950s the Hawaiian Goose or 'Ne-ne', a species very near to extinction, was successfully bred at Slimbridge and re-introduced into the Hawaiian islands. In the following two decades the Trust expanded its operations, opening five new centres and refuges at various locations in the UK. Scott understood that the conservation of wildlife and the natural environment needed to be viewed in an international context, if significant advances were to be achieved. A co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF; now the World Wide Fund for Nature), he served as its first Chairman (1961-1982) and as Chairman of the WWF British National Appeal. As Chairman of the Survival Services Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 1962-1981, he invented the Red Data Books for documenting endangered species of flora and fauna. Scott was heavily involved in the WWF's fundraising projects and campaigns, at the same time establishing himself as a prominent communicator for the cause of world conservation. In numerous speeches he emphasised the dangers inherent not only to wildlife but to man himself in the continued destruction and pollution of the biosphere. Outside the WWF and IUCN he served, in various capacities, a great number organisations covering a broad range of conservation interests. Among the offices he held were President of the Fauna and Flora Preservation Society, 1981-1989, and Director of the Loch Ness Phenomena Investigation Bureau Ltd, 1961-1977. His numerous interests and commitments in the fields of conservation and ornithology necessitated a great deal of travel overseas. He visited the Antarctic on five occasions, and his ornithological expeditions included a search for the Redbreasted Goose along the shores of the Caspian Sea (1938) and an exploration of the Perry River region of the Canadian Arctic to study Ross's Goose and its breeding grounds (1949). In the 1940s Scott became a well-known broadcaster, regularly appearing on the BBC radio programme Nature Parliament on Children's Hour. He was instrumental in the development of the BBC's Natural History Unit at Bristol, presenting the television programme Look from 1955 to 1970. In 1971 he began presenting commentaries for Anglia Television's natural history series, Survival, and became a Director of Survival Anglia Ltd. Scott published eighteen books and illustrated twenty others. His best known books include Morning Flight (see above), Wild Chorus (1938), The Battle of the Narrow Seas (1945), The Eye of the Wind (autobiography, 1961) and Travel Diaries of a Naturalist (three volumes, 1983-1987). In addition to his work as artist, conservationist and broadcaster he held offices in various other organisations, most notably the Chancellorship of the University of Birmingham, 1974-1983. His other main interests were yachting and gliding. He won a bronze medal for single-handed sailing at the Olympic Games in Kiel in 1936, won the Prince of Wales Cup in 1937 and 1938, and competed unsuccessfully for the America's Cup in 1964. In 1963 he won the National Open Gilding Championship. In 1942 Scott married Elizabeth Jane Howard, the future novelist, from whom he was later divorced. In 1951 he married Philippa Talbot Ponsonby (later Lady Scott; referred to in the catalogue as Philippa Scott) who is now Honorary Director of the Wildfowl Trust. During his lifetime he received many honours and awards for his conservation work. He was awarded the CBE in 1953 and was knighted in 1973, the first person to receive this honour for services to conservation. In 1987 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society under Statute 12. Scott died in August 1989. For a full account of Scott's life see Peter Scott, Painter and Naturalist, by Elspeth Huxley (London, 1993).

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:


Partial photograph album [compiled by Carola or Margery Seward], 1926

Reference Code: GBR/0269/DCPP/SEW/4/2/7
Scope and Contents Only partially copied (without holiday photos and non-Downing groups). Includes: Lord Robert Cecil and Canon Raven with A. C. Seward at Downing; Margery at the pianola in the Drawing Room in the Master's Lodge; Mary Hayward and Miss Smuts; Dockerill in an Austin car in front of the Master's Lodge at Downing; Huon and Camilla Walton [Dorothy and John's children]; Helen and Ladybird Haslam; Dorothy Sampson [Phyllis and Michael's daughter]; Margery ('dressed for Princess Mary') and Carola in...
Dates: 1926
Conditions Governing Access: From the Fonds: Generally open.

Peter Scott: Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Scott (Peter)
Scope and Contents The collection of Scott's paper is extensive. It includes a large number of biographical materials, material related to Scott's time in the Royal Navy during World War II, items covering Scott's involvement in nature conservation and research (including papers about the possible existence of the Loch Ness Monster), material related to Scott's extensive travels (mainly for professional purposes), drafts of Scott's books and other material related to his publications, documentation of Scott's...
Dates: 1916-1993
Conditions Governing Access: Some items are restricted at the discretion of the Keeper of Manuscripts.

The waterfowl of the world: line drawings, annotated proofs

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.9955
Scope and Contents

Line drawings and annotated proofs for key plates in Jean Delacour, The waterfowl of the world: with sixteen plates in colour by Peter Scott (London: Country Life, 1964-74)

Dates: 1964-1974
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Visitors' album (album amicorum) of the Aub family

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.10175
Scope and Contents

An album containing texts and graphic illustrations principally by visitors to the residence of the Aub family in Mexico City. Contributors include Octavio Paz and Peter Scott.

Dates: 1930 - 1950
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Additional filters:

ARCHON code (for CUL materials)
Archives and MSS Dept. (GBR/0012) 3
Collection 3
Archival Object 1
Nature conservation 1
Ornithology 1
Second World War (1939-1945) 1
Wetlands 1