If you have a memory of Max which might interest others, please send it by Email for inclusion on this page
Links to the latest additions
to this page
Max and Earthwatch
Reintroduction of Swans to the London Thames
Max's role in the Festival of Britain in 1951
Memories of working for Max on the IBP
Working for Max Nicholson - early 1950s
Max interviewed for Desert
Island Discs in 1995 and complete transcript
(now available as a podcast on bbc.co.uk)
Max catches polio in 1952
Max's part in the History of Birding
Nicholson went up to Oxford in 1926, and soon went to work organising the Oxford
Bird Census. Meanwhile he began his extraordinarily prolific career as a writer,
publishing his first book, 'Birds in England' when he was still only 22 years
contributed by Stephen Moss
Max and the British Trust for Ornithology
In 1931, Max Nicholson published his fourth book "The Art of Bridwatching". In
it he argued that "A Society of Birdwatches on a national scale, and a central
clearing house for information and direction of team-work, present theselves with
growing insistence as inevitable objectives". Two years later, he founded the
BTO, the embodiment of that vision. Such drive, determination and ability to persuad
others to help him thake action proved to be Max's life-long characteristics
contributed by Prof.
Jeremy Greenwood of the BTO
Max writes to a friend in New York on 1 November 1940
My dear Leonard, 10 30 p.m
One or two letters we have been getting from the USA lately suggest that some
of the people who have been out of England longer than you are suffering from
a lot of wrong ideas about the bombing of London, and as you left soon after the
Blitz began it may interest you to have some sort of a picture of what it feels
like after the first couple of months or so.
(FEW WORDS CENSORED) I had just finished supper (rather late for nowadays) and
was coming down the (CENSORED) when one of the enemy bombers . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
Max crossing the Atlantic in 1942
As part of his job in the Ministry of War Transport, Max had to go to Washington
from time to time. On this occasion, he was travelling in the "Queen Elizabeth".
This was the only ship allowed to sail without a destroyer escort, because it
was considered fast enough to evade U-boats. As a precautionary measure, it sailed
a course of large zig-zags.
The exact position of the ship was a matter of top security, and known only to
the Captain and the navigating officer. There was therefore consternation when
Max announced to the Captain that they were 300 miles south-west of Iceland. "How
did you know" they asked, fearing a damaging security breach. "Well, I have just
seen a bird which has a 200 mile radius from Greenland but is unknown in Iceland,
while I saw another bird earlier today which has a 300 mile range from Iceland,
but they have now vanished. " (The ornithological details of this story I have
forgotten, but hopefully someone will be able to fill them in!)
contributed by Piers Nicholson
Max reflects on working with the Russians and the Americans during the war
Users of shipping and especially the military, tended to look on it as a kind
of cab-rank from which the needful vessels would be whistled up as and when they
were wanted. They found it hard to adapt to the shipping authorities' view of
their task as being to manage over time and space a scarce and fleeting resource
in such a way as to yield the utmost quality and quantity of cargo lift. That
could only be achieved by all behaving as a disciplined and intelligent team,
doing their best to fulfil a common programme. more
Max's role in the Festival of Britain in 1951
. . . . . You couldn't call Max an eccentric.
He was a very gifted man - you can't manage an enterprise on the scale of the
Fesitval of Britain unless you have very considerable managerial talents.
The Festival was extraordinarily fortunate in its people. Gerald Barry was the
Director General, and, though very different from Max, they worked together very
well. and Hugh Casson, Huw Wheldon and other members of the team were brilliant
architects. . . . . . . . more
by Sir Paul Wright
Max's preface to "Birds and Men", 1951
When the Editors invited me to write
this book, they offered me an opportunity to complete a picture of the impact
of civilisation on our bird life for which I had drawn a first sketch in "Birds
in England" over twenty years ago. Here was a chance to trace the shaping of our
towns and countryside and the life-histories and ecology of their more characteristic
birds. In taking this opportunity I soon found that far too little is yet known
to allow anything approaching a complete picture to be drawn, although it is true
that enough has been learnt recently to give us a much better idea of the subject.
Max catches polio, 1952
In 1952, an old friend, David Owen,
had become head if the United Nations Development Programme, and was looking for
someone to head up a comprehensive survey of the Baluchistan province of Pakistan.
It fitted well for Max between his leaving the Lord President's Office and taking
up his new job as the second Director-General of the Nature Conservancy. But he
caught polio while he was in Baluchistan. It was diagnosed soon after his return
and he spent most of October 1952 in intensive care in a London hospital.
The doctors told him that he would never walk again. Polio was regarded with superstitious
dread at that time; there was no vaccine and patients typically spent a long time
in an "iron lung". Max's response was "Just wait and see". Within a month, he
noted that he could walk one mile at 1.3 miles an hour. This episode illustrates
how his ferocious energy and focus enabled him to overcome apparently insuperable
by Piers Nicholson
Max at Braunton Burrows in the early 50s
In 1952 Max had recently been appointed Director General of The Nature Conservancy.
Shortly afterwards I was appointed under him as the Conservancy's Regional Officer
for South West England. Max was recovering from polio but he was determined to
visit places which were being considered as National Nature Reserves. One of these
was Braunton Burrows, that wonderful stretch of sand and sand dunes in North Devon.
Max could not have found walking easy, I suspect he was in some pain, but he pushed
ahead. Suddenly a harrier came flying low over the horizon. The sight galvanised
him; he strained forward to get a better view of the bird, before it disappeared
over the sandhills. It was splendidly obvious that he really cared about what
we were all trying to conserve. He immediately earned my deepest respect, and
gave me, like all my colleagues, hope for the future.
contributed by Norman Moore
Working with Max Nicholson - early 1950s
To go back to those formative years of the Nature Conservancy - the 1950s and
early 1960s - The Nicholson Years - when the on the ground pattern of a three
country science-based, structured organisation was formed with its Country Headquarters,
Regional Offices, Research Stations and National Nature Reserves. The work force
came into being across the country, and started to make an impact. It was an
environmental Blitzkreig - nation-wide. Those who were fortunate enough to be
invited to fill an advertised post, be it administrative, scientific or field
management, had to do their homework to discover what this business called Nature
Conservation was all about and also who was the Director General mastermind
driving this bus. I know that we had to do this to understand just how our particular
role/functions contributed to the creation and working of the Max Nicholson
Grand Design. Any one of you who have memories of the Nicholson Years will have
their own views on their entry to the Nature Conservancy and how they embraced
I had time to think about this whole business of Nature Conservation and also
my leader, the Director General, as I travelled the roads and found my way into
remote parts of England and Wales seeking out a designated Naional Nature Reserve.
From my reading of files and books in the Belgrave Square Registry and Library
I now knew something of the history of 'The Man'. Also the development, over
the 1930s and later war years, of the thought and planning which had gone into
the emergence of science-based conservation of our natural resources, which
hung on the peg of Max Nicholson's lifelong interest in ornithology. I learnt
that he, Max, was said to be an irascible, driven individual; that his wartime
record of leading the shipping division of the Board of Trade, in support of
the Battle of the Atlantic and the Arctic (Russian) convoys was well known;
that he was an organiser, a planner of note, in government; and the recipient
of many honours and awards, not least a CBE and CVO. And he was also a physically
wounded man on crutches, holed up in a ground floor office. I had to get to
see him at some time - to talk about birds and reserve management. I managed
to secure an interview. I was impressed from the first meeting: I was his liege
man - but I was not a scientist.
contributed by Eric (Robbie) Roberts
Max in Edinburgh in the mid-1950's
The moving and evocative Memorial
Service last Friday set me reminiscing on my time with the Nature Conservancy.
I had a studentship from the NC 1950-1952 and was a scientist at its Merlewood
Research Station, Grange-over-Sands from 1953 to 1958. Over these years I met
Max on several occasions but one in particular sticks in my mind and shows what
a wide and diverse circle of friends he had.
In the mid 1950’s (1955 or 1956) there was an International Conference on Nature
Conservation in Edinburgh which I along with several Merlewood colleagues attended.
One evening we were invited to a small cocktail party hosted by Mr & Mrs Nicholson.
They were staying in a house on one of Edinburgh’s elegant squares loaned to
them for the duration of the conference by the author Compton Mackenzie (a bird
watcher?). To our surprise one of the other guests was the actor James Robertson
Justice. We did not discover his connection with Max - maybe he was a keen bird
watcher too. Bird watcher or not he left us in no doubt that he was type cast
in his role in “Doctor in the House" contributed
by Dr. Owen Gilbert
Max inspiring others
Palmer Newbould recalls the formation
of the UCL conservation course. I was fortunate to be one of 6 on the first course
in 1960. What stands out from a calendar year of intense activity, including about
15 weeks of field work around Britain (Max's idea?), was the realization that
conservation had to become an all pervasive activity, integrated into the policies
and practices of all sectors of society and not just the enthusiasm of a dedicated
few. While he himself was one of the latter he, and Palmer, could see the need to
involve industry, local government, local communities, farmers and landowners
and those who managed public utilities. Max also had a passion for 'greening cities',
ahead of others, and inspired pioneering work particularly in London.
The Countryside in 1970 conferences helped enormously to increase understanding
and the formation of the Countryside Commission in 1968 gave added impetus. The powers
to experiment with new ideas needed bright people to see the potential. Among
the first staff appointments were conservation course graduates who brought to
the new body the 'joined up thinking' that Max so firmly advocated along with
a belief that restoring the environmental mistakes of the past had to go hand
in hand with protecting the best of our heritage.
The opportunity to try out on a large scale a new approach to the restoration
and management of open land in and around a city came with Michael Heseltine's
appointment as Secretary of State. He supported the Countryside Commission's vision
of a partnership between the public, private and voluntary sectors through an
independent action oriented charitable company - the Groundwork Trust. I was at
the time Assistant Director responsible for setting up the new company. The person
chosen to run it as Executive Director was Dr, now Professor, John Handley, another
cons course graduate.
Groundwork is now a national network with offshoots in Japan and the USA and active
also in the accession countries. In the UK it employs more than 1500 staff working
with several thousand volunteers and members of local communities. It uses ecological
and all sorts of other knowledge, puts it at the disposal of local people, and
enables things to be done to make towns more livable and more sustainable. What
began as an environmental initiative has evolved into a powerful means also of
achieving linked social and economic objectives. As Max said ‘you’ll never get
Whitehall departments to work harmoniously together, the task is just too huge,
better to concentrate on joining things together at the local level’.
Those of us who had a hand in bringing the network to fruition persuaded Max to
join us in Birmingham for a seminar, sometime in the early 1990's. He gave us
his insights, his endorsement, and above all he inspired a new generation of environmental
managers with his creativity and vision. What a day; what a man.
contributed by Dr. John Davidson,
Groundwork co-founder and Chief Executive 1983-96
An early meeting with Max Nicholson, 1961
Within days of my joining The Nature
Conservancy on 1st January 1961, as Warden- Naturalist at High Halstow on the
North Kent Marshes I encountered two wildfowlers on the sea wall near St Mary’s
Bay. One of them had shot a Curlew, which had fallen injured to the ground inside
the sea wall. Just at this moment a walker appeared on the scene and proceeded
to upbraid the wildfowlers for what seemed to him to be an unsporting and illegal
action. I was challenged as to what I was going to do about it. As a new recruit
to The Nature Conservancy I was by no means confident concerning the rights and
wrongs of the situation and I was not at all sure that there was anything that
I could or should do. more
contributed by Michael
Hudson, former Nature Conservancy Regional Officer
Max's chapter in "The Humanist Frame" 1961
Man, like other animals, began life
in a natural habitat. Unlike other animals - except a few which have become dependent
on him - he has outgrown and almost forgotten it. This basic fact has much to
do with many present-day human problems, economic, social and psychological.
Max's working methods
Its not so much Max stories, though
there are plenty of those. It is the total achievement, made up of myriad projects.
Max would have a bright idea and find some person or group to help him implement
it. If it didn't work, he would drop it and move on to the next project. If it
did work, he would leave his helpers to get on with it, with regular messages
of encouragement and other forms of support from Max. Max would then move on to
the next project. His intellectual energy was phenomenal. I will mention just
three projects in which I was involved .
by Palmer Newbould
Max and the Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa
Max was either one of the, or the,
driving force behind the initiation of many projects, especially in ornithology.
One of these was the "Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East and North
Africa" (the sub-title "The Birds of the Western Palearctic" was more manageable,
but BWP was easier still!). As ever, Max played a key role in getting this going;
indeed it was largely his vision that resulted in the work developing from a successor
to "The Handbook of British Birds" into one covering the whole of the western
Much of this history and many of the problems that had to be surmounted are recounted
in Max's Foreword to the IXth and final volume. What he does not mention is that
he was the only contributor who lasted the whole course. Max wrote the "Habitat"
section for every single species, other than some of the vagrants, from the first
volume to the last.
Volume VIII was just about completed and Volume IX was in advanced proof stages
in the run-up to Max's 90th birthday. The publishers, Oxford University Press,
pulled out all the stops to get a proof copy specially bound, so that he could
be given both volumes at his 90th birthday celebrations. So, for a few weeks,
Max was the only person who owned a complete set.of BWP, a position he wholly
by Christopher Perrins
Max and the Biological Records Centre
He then had the visionary idea of transferring
the botanical data to Monks Wood soon after it opened as the core of the Biological
Records Centre . . . . more
Max and Field Studies in Scotland
As an example of Max's working method,
here is how ' as best remembered - he instigated Scotland's first permanent field
centre. Sometime about 1960, Max realised that, although new field centres were
being added to the then existing field centres in England and Wales, under the
aegis of the Field Studies Council, there was no permanent field centre in Scotland.
This was despite the fact that the equivalent organisation north of the border,
the Scottish Field Studies Association, had been running field courses at various
'borrowed' places such as youth hostels. This made no sense to Max, given the
richness of Scotland's habitats and so he decided to do something about it.
contributed by Thomas Huxley
The Civil Service reacts to the publication of "The System" in 1967
In the evening I was telephoned by Harold
Lever who told me he'd been asked to appear on "The World at One" to represent
the Civil service and defend the Treasury against the attack on it which Max Nicholson
launched in his new book "The System". more
from the diaries
of Richard Crossman
Israel Sieff talks about Max, 1970
Max Nicholson is the cleverest man I
have ever met, and one of the most lovable. I may not be a good judge of which
men are clever, and which men are not; but many men ....................
from the memoirs of Israel Sieff
Max and the Nature Conservancy
I did not know Max very well in person,
but as an historian I have spent many hours reading his voluminous written records.
I was appointed as an historian to the Nature Conservancy's Monks Wood Experimental
Station in 1967, shortly after Max's retirement as Director-General. Max told
me on several occasions that Monks Wood was one of the few initiatives which he
could claim as entirely his own - a fact borne out entirely by the Conservancy's
own archive and that of the Minister for Science.
Many were the stories I was told on my arrival at Monks Wood of Max summoning
scientists to Belgrave Square. He ran the Conservancy and its committees on Cabinet
Committee lines. As an item came before the Conservancy, those with the relevant
specialist knowledge would be brought into the room, questioned by Max, and then
dismissed. Although they were grateful that their views were sought, it was clearly
something of an ordeal to appear before such eminent figures under Max's very
stern direction. more
contributed by John
Max and Environmental Education
I once asked Max for his guidance on
Environmental Education in connection with a school for which I was responsible.
His reply was unexpectedly succinct. 'Get them outside.' contributed
by Brian Nicholson
Max, Peter Scott, and Slimbridge
With the sad departure of Max we have
lost one of the very few "Greats" of the Twentieth Century - and he was indeed
a Great Man.
As Assistant Secretary of the (then) Severn Wildfowl Trust, I first met Max in
London in 1947 when he was on the Council. It was immediately evident that Peter
had great regard for his advice.
Although he retired from Council when he took up the post of Director General
of the Nature Conservancy Max retained a close interest in the work of the Trust
and Peter was constantly in touch with him. Much time was spent discussing the
problems of nature conservation not only in this country but globally. Peter probably
depended more on his help in this field than on anyone else. Later he was to become
a Vice President Of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and continued to give advice
and support until the end.
Peter has recorded in his book "Observations of Wildlife" how he and Max travelled
back from an IUCN meeting in Switzerland discussing the possibility of raising
funds for conservation through some other organisation which, of course was to
After Peter moved to Slimbridge, Max stayed with us more than once. He was a delightful
guest and I enjoyed his company as much as Peter did. On one occasion he enchanted
my two young children by visiting them in bed while I was cooking the dinner and
amusing them with stories. On that occasion after he left we found some pink sugar
mice in the spare room drawer -- left overs from his visits to the children.!
His interests lay not only in the natural world and the workings of governments
but in people as well thus making him a fascinating person to know.
contributed by Lady Scott
Max as employer
I have read three obituaries, and while
I knew Max had achieved a great deal, I was surprised at the number and scope
of the initiatives he had begun. I was however, surprised that no one wrote of
how he treated his staff.
I worked for max for about 6 years on the International Biological Programme.
One of the things about him that impressed me so much, although at the time being
young I was unaware of its importance, was the way he valued his staff, and made
them feel valuable too. I didn't appreciate at the time how unusual he was, and
how fortunate I was. I found myself another job towards the end of IBP in 1972,
but I know that if I hadn't he would have fond me one. It's a great tribute, for
example, that someone as able, and as nice, as Teresa Sexton should work for him
for 57 years.
Max was a fortunate man, intellectually and emotionally committed to his causes,
always in a position to do something about them passionately interested in the
world around him, and in giving so much to his causes and the people around hi,
had a very fulfilled life. contributed by Jennifer Norman
Memories of working for Max on the IBP
. . . . . He was remarkably easy and
entertaining to work for. On the more relaxed occasions, he regaled us with anecdotes
and 'bloody asides'. I was always astounded at the fluency with which he dictated
even complex reports, using few notes, or none. I was also quickly aware of the
trepidation with which more senior colleagues approached him. . . . . . . . .
by George Peterken
Max in the early 70s
I will share three recollectons with
you. The first occured when I was travelling in 1971, as technical secretary with
the Commission on Mining and the Environment, (Max, Professor Lord Zuckerman,
Sir Jack Longland, Professor Kidson and Sir Frederick Warner) in a small Gulfstream
jet en route to view Wheal Jane tin mine in Cornwall. Max, in his enthusiasm for
pointing out landmarks he had visited on the ground, kept calling the rest of
the party to peer out . . . . . . . . more
contributed by Peter
Max and the RSPB in Norwich
In April 1983, we laid on a fortnight's
activities in and around Norwich, whose aim was to bring to people knowledge about
the RSPB in general and conservation in particular.
The fortnight was launched by a boat trip from the Hotel Nelson in Norwich down
to Strumpshaw Fen, were everyone disembarked for a guided walk round the Fen before
returning to Norwich by boat. Max kindly agreed to perform the launching ceremony
on board while sailing to Strumpshaw, and made on of his much-to-the-point speeches,
and delighted everyone with his knowledge and friendliness when talking to him.
I had known of Max for some years before this opportunity of meeting him and for
a short while working with him. from then on, we met several times at RSPB functions.
I am now a council member of the BTO and very proud of the connection
contributed by Pamela Rhodes
Max and s'Albufera, Mallorca
My memory of Max goes back over 30 years
when he and I and the late Peter Conder stood on a mount at s'Albufera and "had
a dream". We looked across the wonderful marsh area in Mallorca, which was seriously
under threat from developers, and nobody seemed to care. My late husband, Eddie
Watkinson and I had despaired as we did not know to whom to turn for help.
Then Max came on holiday to Mallorca, visited s'Albufera, met us and took us under
his wing. Through his influence, he opened doors which, over the years, enabled
s'Albufera to be purchased by the local government, and declared a Parc Natural.
It is now known internationally as an area of great potential and scientific renown.
Many times since that first day, Max and I with others have raised our glasses
to that "dream" and I know that Max was extremely proud of what had been achieved,
and that s'Albufera had a special place in his heart.. He visited many times,
often bringing colleagues, experts in the fields, who were able to help and advise
us. To the end, max was still full of ideas for the future.
s'Albufera and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Max. He is remembered with affection
and held in high esteem there, and we shall ensure that he is not forgotten. Such
a tiny part of Max's great life, but a special and important one
contributed by Pat Bishop
see also obituary from
Max and Earthwatch
Nicholson was a dominant figure when I started working at Earthwatch in early
1993. . . . . Two features of Max's communication
stick in my mind. The first is that his 'phone calls always ended very abruptly
- Max would normally rattle off an instruction and ring off without saying goodbye,
leaving me holding the receiver and sometimes slightly uncertain as to whether
the conversation had ended. But most notable was his typing. He lived in a world
before computers, let alone e-mail, and would send letters on an old-fashioned
typewriter with a faded ribbon and would always repeat the same typing errors.
He would periodically send me documents and papers through the post, addressed
to "Dr Bobert Barringtop".
contributed by Dr. Robert Barrington
A conversation at Max's 90th birthday party at the Atheneum
Members of the '49 Club will remember my portrait of Max presented to him as a
birthday present on the occasioon of his 90th birthday.
He came over to me after thedinner and said "Michael, one of my daughters-in-law
says you know something about me that I don't know myself" I said "Many people
thought of him only as a top Civil Servant who was ruthless in the establishment
of the former Nature Conservancy, and for its survival. However, we in the Conservation
Branch knew another side of you.
When I was Regional Officer for Southern England, one of my staff was involved
in a fatal accident, and subsequently charged with causing death by dangerous
driving. When this was reported to you, you ordered that everything was to be
done in the officer's defence. The officer was acquitted.
We knew that youalways had the welfare of your staff at heart. This is why we
worked so hard to keep up with you. It was your humanity that your daughter-in-law
contributed by Michael Woodman
Max on a summer walk
We were having a pleasant summer walk,
when we came across a forestry commission sign. Max immeadiately commented that
like so many organisations, it had far too many committees and any good ideas
took as long as the trees to grow. We marched on ... contributed
by Toni Nicholson
. . . . . and another walk
6 or so years ago Max visited Schumacher
College, where I was then administrator, to give a lecture. He disappeared off
in the afternoon, for a walk in Northwood, behind the College. The first I knew
of anything amiss was a fellow member of staff reported that there seemed to be
a trail of blood leading into one of the accommodation blocks. Not quite believing
my colleague I went out to discover that my father (who also worked at the College)
had followed the trail of blood and occasional macabre hand prints on the wall,
to find that Max had fallen whilst out walking, and had reached out to grab the
fence to stabilise himself. Unfortunately the fence was barbed wire and Max had
badly lacerated his hand. As the College's first-aider, I explained to Max that
we would have to take him to the local hospital. Max told me to stop making a
fuss and to give him a plaster. I stood my ground and with him clutching a cotton
cloth in his injured hand, we set off for the cottage hospital, me pleading from
the back of the car for Max to keep his hand up above the height of his heart
and to hold it still. He was having none of it and waved his hand around gesticulating
in explanation of the story he was telling very enthusiastically.
We reached casualty, my father and I having become nervous wrecks by this point,
and Max was taken away by the duty doctor. He emerged triumphantly, sporting 16
stitches and impressive bandaging, half an hour later. The duty doctor followed
him out looking pale. "He is quite a phenomena" she said. "He could really do
with having the wound checked in three days but he tells me he is lecturing abroad!
Get him to have it checked when and if you c an." contributed
by Hilary Nicholson, Great Niece.
Max in his 90's
I was working for the Wildlife Trusts
when at our annual conference in Grantham (?) in 1995 or 1996, Max was a guest
speaker. I think he was 90 then, but he spoke with such passion about pressing
conservation and environmental issues we were all inspired. Leaving the conference
by train, I was standing a few yards down the platform as he struggled with his
suitcase. I helped him onto the train and sat with him. So I had the extraordinary
privilege of a 2 hour train journey to London in the presence of Max. He was funny,
charming and our conversation was punctuated by Max pointing through the window
at bits of fen and ancient woodland that he'd had some hand in and, as we passed
Peterborough, a tale of setting up the Nature Conservancy. As with many, many people,
my career as a conservationist was touched and influenced by Max - I did the UCL
Cons Course; I did my Masters fieldwork at s'Albufera; now I work for WWF. contributed
by Chris Howe, Executive Director, WWF New Zealand
Max and the launch of the New Renaissance Group
His launch of the New Renaissance
project was an unusual thing for a man in his 40s or 50s to achieve, but to do
so when you are turning 90 is superhuman. more
by Adrian Phillips
Max and the New Renaissance Group
It was characteristic of Max's energy
and burning commitment that at the age of 90 he should found a new group dedicated
to changing the disastrous course of current human development by charting a new
future. He called together a small group of old colleagues with distinguished
experience in the environment and development movements, added a sprinkling of
'youngsters' in their fifties and sixties, including the writer, and set up in
1995 what was first called the Earthcare Group. As its scope was being explored
Max was struck by the parallels between the flowering of new ideas and intellectual
achievements of the 16th century Renaissance and the need for a similar leap forward
now. After he had waxed eloquent on this theme in his Desert Island Discs appearance,
the title of New Renaissance Group(NRG) was adopted as having the appropriate
resonance. No doubt Max saw some analogies between his own position as Chairman
(and later President) of NRG and that of Cosimo di Medici, the only fly in the
ointment being that he lacked the latter's wealth. The Group did not seek a large
membership or elaborate structures but aimed to work as a think-tank or stimulant,
filling in gaps and building bridges. However, without Teresa Sexton, its indefatigable
secretary, it would never have functioned at all. The agenda was set out by Max
in a public lecture at the Royal Geographical Society in 1997, a memorable occasion
on any terms. One key idea of Max's was that the environmental movement, in which
he had played several crucial roles, had by and large succeeded in developing
instruments and institutions which at a technical level could solve the problems
they were designed to solve but they needed to be integrated with or help produce
solutions to the problems of human behaviour in the social and economic spheres.
No more than a start was made on this task, not because Max's ideas were rejected,
but rather because the resources to organise sufficient cross-sectoral dialogue
were mostly lacking.
Two related pieces of work did however manage to give some expression to Max's
vision of integrating the disciplines which are relevant to a sustainable human
future in harmony with nature. The first was the collection of essays edited by
Duncan Poore, under the title Where Next? Reflections on the human future published
in the millennium year. Max's contribution contains a characteristically sweeping
review of the course of human evolution, the present perils of human capacity
to damage the biosphere and an astonishing optimism about the possibilities our
stepping back from the brink. Similarly the NRG Edinburgh workshop in 2001 which
took forward the thinking of Where Next? to produce the statement Beyond Sustainable
Development and in which, at the age of 96, Max played a lively part, said 'we
call for the globalization of human responsibility…a moral inter-dependence which
requires the globalization of our highest values.' This was the cause which Max
championed throughout a remarkable life and for which we honour him. We shall
not see his like again. contributed by Robin Sharp,
formerly Chairman, New Renaissance Group
Max interviewed for Desert Island Discs in 1995
This interview is now available as a podcast - type Desert Island Discs Max Nicholson to find it
He boasted, justifiably, that he had
had seven careers in all. But he was undoubtedly strongest, I felt, on the vast
breadth of events that he had witnessed - from seeing soldiers marching off to
war in 1914 (his memory of the Ist WW was vivid), to meeting President Truman
and, at another point, entertaining the Duke of Edinburgh! But there were jokes
too - how he only played cricket once at Sedburgh School but went bird watching
contributed by Sue Lawley
Reintroduction of Swans to the London Thames
One of Max's many splendid ideas was
the reintroduction of Swans to the Thames in Central London, where they have been
absent for some years.
Mute Swans have a long historical association with the River Thames at London.
In 1496 the secretary to the Venetian Ambassador writing to his master said "it
is a truly beautiful thing to behold one or two thousand tame swans upon the river
Thames as I and your magnificence have seen."
more contributed by Colin Bowlt
Max visits the Eden Project in 2002
Towards the end of May 2002, Max was
still mobile enough to travel down to the West Country for a few days. My wife
and I took him and Toni down there, where we all stayed in a quaint guesthouse
at Gorran Cove. We spent a good day at the Eden project (with very kind assistance
from management and staff), visited the Heligan Gardens and managed a number of
pub meals. Very satisfactory and enjoyable ! contributed
by Tom Nicholson
Max and King Hussein of Jordan
. At three o'clock we went to see
King Hussein… I had already outlined our objectives in the exchange of correspondence
which had resulted in the King's invitation for the expedition to take place.
He had been kept well informed of our progress and now listened attentively while
Max again developed his preliminary views on measures to restore Jordan's vegetation
and save its disappearing wildlife. Given an attentive audience, Max's enthusiasm
sweeps him along at a breathless pace. He was soon deep in a description of the
costly mistakes made by some countries where opportunistic conservation measures
had caused more harm than good. "Jordan can profit by the accumulation of experience
gained throughout the world in planning her conservation programme," he said.
"While other countries are still wrestling with the consequences of errors made
long before this knowledge was acquired, Jordan, starting from scratch, can go
straight into the lead with the latest techniques." Seeking to break the ice of
palace protocol, he added: "You see, your majesty, in shaping the International
Biological Programme we are looking for somewhere unspoilt by previous experiments
and Jordan could be the ideal guinea-pig!" The King took this in the right spirit,
throwing back his head and laughing… Excerpt from 'Portrait
of a Desert' by the lateGuy Mountfort