In memoriam (1904-2003)
Max Nicholson, great mentor and creator of the project at s’Albufera, first came to Mallorca on a family holiday in the late 1970s. Max was also involved with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, including two spells as President, so it was natural that he made contact with Eddie Watkinson, a British birdwatcher based in Pollença who was also the RSPB representative on the island. At that time Eddie and his friends (British and Mallorcan) were getting concerned at threats to the Albufera – in particular threats to drain and urbanise parts of it for tourism. Eddie persuaded Max to help with the campaign to save it. Max used his influence with the RSPB and international bodies such as the WWF, to draw attention to the plight of one of the Mediterranean’s most important wetlands and to secure funds for its purchase. At a crucial moment, Eddie tragically died and Max thought that without Eddie’s drive and local contacts the fight would be lost. Much to Max’s delight, Eddie’s widow Pat (now Pat Bishop) carried on the struggle and, together with much international and local support, they managed to persuade the Balearic government to protect the site and make it a Parc Natural. In the end, the Balearic people recognised the importance of the site and international money was not needed to save it.
What was needed, however, was knowledge about the site and demonstration of why it was so important. To meet this need Max organised an a team of scientists, originally from Britain but in later years more and more international, to make regular visits to study the site. In order to do this he sought the backing of the newly formed Earthwatch Europe, using the project as an impetus for Earthwatch Europe to get going and give the organisation a flagship initiative to heighten its prestige. At the same time, Max was able to put a team in the field to tackle an issue which was concerning Max more and more, and for which little work was being done. That issue was global environmental change and its effects on the environment.
The first Principal Investigator was Professor Palmer Newbould, an eminent recently retired British ecologist. Dr Franklyn Perring and Terry Wells were other eminent scientists who headed the project in the 1990s. The project was known for several years as Earthwatch Europe Project S’Albufera, with the more specific but less catchy subtitle of A Mediterranean Model for the Monitoring of Biodiversity and Environmental Change.
In 1997 Earthwatch Europe withdrew from funding of the project, though continuing with an African Biologists training programme until 1999. A difficult period followed but Max (and other supporters and lovers of s’Albufera) fought hard to keep the project going, even though by then he was well into his 90s. Max retained a huge enthusiasm for the project throughout and was always eager for news. He visited the project at least once most years until he was about 96!
Now Project S’Albufera has become well established and internationally respected. The team comprises an international association of scientists under the cachet The Albufera International Biodiversity group (TAIB). Max lived to see yet another of his ideas turn from dream to reality. He was immensely proud of the project, and thrilled to see more and more Balearic and Spanish involvement in it. It is a huge honour for us that we should stand alongside all his major achievements, such as setting the pathway for such giant organisations as WWF and IUCN, and a delight that he lived to see the project become a success after a number of difficult and challenging years.
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