Max Nicholson

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Edward Max Nicholson "was a distinguished ornithologist who was instrumental in the foundation of the World Wildlife Fund (now the Worldwide Fund for Nature) and the Nature Conservancy (in England now English Nature), as first Director-General of which he served from 1952 to 1966. He was also an environmentalist, with a sweeping vision for the development of London, a leading figure in the 1951 Festival of Britain, and the founder of the (Silver) Jubilee Walkway, which now extends over 14 miles through the centre of the capital.

"Sometimes he operated within government organisations, sometimes from outside. Indeed he saw himself as a scourge of the "Establishment", fervently believing that Britain could again be a great nation if run by what he called a "Counter-Establishment". He caused more than a small stir with his 1967 book The System.

"Although he appeared on such radio programmes as Desert Island Discs, and was active until the end with the New Renaissance Group, Nicholson was never a household name and, despite the attempts of others to secure honours for him, most recently in the magazine Country Life in January, he was relatively un-honoured. He never sought personal glory and tended to be dismissive of those who had. Instead he sought to get things done, and he was one of those people that, once you have heard their name, crop up everywhere: he seemed, mysteriously, to be the mastermind of an enormous number of well-known and successful enterprises...

"At Oxford he founded the Exploration Club, and took part in expeditions to Greenland in 1928, and to the Amazonian rain forest in British Guiana in 1929. His interest in birds led him to organise the 1927 Oxford Bird Census and, in 1928, a national census of heronries. In 1932 he was a founder of the British Trust for Ornithology and its first honorary secretary...

"He was Chairman of the British Trust for Ornithology between 1947 and 1949 and was involved with Peter Scott in founding the Severn Wildfowl Trust. He initiated and was first chairman and chief editor of the great nine-volume Oxford series The Birds of the Western Palearctic between 1965 and 1992. From 1980 to 1985 he was President of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

"In between this overriding interest Nicholson spent many years in public service. In 1930, he became an assistant editor on the Weekend Review, drafting in 1931 "A National Plan for Britain", on the basis of which the socio-economic research organisation Political and Economic Planning (PEP) was founded; he was its secretary until 1940, and its chairman after the war. He served on a small team with the Ministry of Information drafting national messages for the outbreak of war, but resigned in disgust in October 1939. Meanwhile he also served on an unofficial Post-War Aims Group that advised the Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax, who sent Nicholson and David Astor to Paris to report on French attitudes in December 1939...

"A key achievement was to chair the initial organising committee for the World Wildlife Fund in 1961. With his friend Aubrey Buxton, he was instrumental in directing the Duke of Edinburgh towards conservation. The Duke's involvement with the World Wildlife Fund enabled him to travel the world, virtually as a head of state, allowing him to make valuable contributions without apparently straying into the fray of politics, since, as Nicholson enjoyed pointing out, the politicians of the early 1960s had little conception of environmental issues.

"Other environmental schemes with which he was involved were the International Institute for Environment and Development (of which he was a founder council member), the UK Programme Committee for World Conservation Strategy (as Chairman from 1981 to 1983) and Earthwatch Europe (as first Chairman, 1985-90). Between 1963 and 1972 he was Convenor for the International Council of Scientific Unions of the conservation section of its International Biological Programme. In more recent years he founded Land Use Consultants in 1966, serving as chairman. His last scheme was the New Renaissance Group, which shaped projects for an over-arching professional College of the Environment, served as an international training centre for a bio-diversity survey, a Council of Culture and other bodies with which Nicholson had been closely involved for over 40 years.

"More books dealt with these interests, the most notable being The System, subtitled "The Misgovernment of Modern Britain" and followed by The Environmental Revolution (1970), The Big Change (1973) and The New Environmental Age (1987). Sadly no publisher seemed inclined to publish the autobiography on which he had been working for many years..." [1]

In 1976 he cofounded the Trust for Urban Ecology.[1]

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  1. Environmentalist of rare vision, Indepedent, accessed October 18, 2008.
  2. Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal, WWF, accessed April 28, 2009.