Max Nicholson


Max Nicholson (1904-2003)
Guy Mountfort (1905-2003)

'The end of an era' is a well-worn phrase, but it has never been more appropriate. Two giant figures of conservation, whose lives and work spanned the 20th century, died within a few days of each other at the end of April - each only a year or two short of their own century. Between them they laid the foundations of modern conservation. Max Nicholson helped set up the British Trust for Ornithology, the Edward Grey Institute and the Nature Conservancy (later English Nature), and was also instrumental in creating the World Wildlife Fund. In the mid-1920s, he carried out the ground-breaking survey of house sparrows in London's Kensington Gardens, counting more than 2500 birds. Seventy-five years later, he and his colleagues found just eight sparrows there.

Nicholson also pioneered modern techniques of bird study, finally moving ornithology away from what he called "the Victorian leprosy of collecting" and into the era of watching birds in the wild.

Guy Mountfort did more than anyone else to broaden the narrow horizons of birdwatching in Britain, by organising pioneering tours to the Coto Donana* in Spain, and later to Jordan and the Danube Delta - chronicled in his best-selling 'Portrait' books. He was the co-author, with Roger Tory Peterson and Phil Hollom, of the Field Guide to the Birds of Britain and Europe, which sold over one million copies, and influenced several generations of birders. But he will perhaps be best remembered for his fight to save one of the world's most endangered creatures, in Operation Tiger, for which he received the OBE. Without Max Nicholson and Guy Mountfort, and their vision, work and effort, the world would be a poorer place for wildlife. We shall not see their like again.

This obituary by Stephen Moss was broadcast on BBC Wildlife