Throughout Luc Hoffmann’s lifetime in conservation he has helped found organisations and programmes to address threats in selected places of global conservation importance. Much of that work carries on today with MAVA Foundation support. The following are some examples.

Tour du Valat – a regional force for wetlands conservation

Tour du Valat : flamingo banding in the fifties
Decades before MAVA was born, Luc Hoffmann was already striding over the Tour du Valat’s mixed pasture and wetlands on the Rhone delta in France, binoculars strung around his neck. He bought the Camargue estate in 1947, having made several previous visits to ring flamingoes and study the area’s rich wildlife. The research centre officially opened in 1954.

No one then grasped the scale of pressures ranged against the area’s unique mix of biodiversity. In addition to increasing tourism, other threats included unsustainable harvesting of Greater Flamingo (Phoenicopterus roseus) eggs and wetland drainage for farming and other development work.

At that time, ornithologists lacked precise information, that is to say quantitative data… No one realized that the Camargue was under threat. That was why it hadn’t occurred to anyone that the Camargue might need defending.“
Luc Hoffmann, MAVA President Emeritus


As its scientists plumbed the complexities of waterbird and wetlands conservation, the centre also looked further afield. Its long-term vision was evident from the start. It helped to establish and then hosted the Bureau International de Recherche sur les Oiseaux d’Eau – (BIROE), (which later became Wetlands International).

Tour du Valat‘s instigated numerous international meetings to defend the function and values of its often-neglected habitats. An initial conference in the Camargue outlined the principles of wetland preservation that prefigured the International Ramsar Convention, signed in 1971. As the centre’s geographic focus grew wider so also did its research, extending from species-focused themes to wetlands management.

At 20-years-old, Tour du Valat became a private, applied research institution, its efforts directed to the public benefit. Work during the 1980s included the development of integrated research programmes into vulnerable species and habitats. Staff also drew up a management plan for their reserve, a first for France. The next decade saw greater emphasis on disseminating its research results throughout the Mediterranean. That included the centre’s involvement in the ongoing Medwet Initiative, which helps promote Ramsar Convention principles and their adaptation to Mediterranean sites.

Today’s efforts focus on tackling the effects of increasing human pressures on wetlands. Among them are declining surface areas, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of the Mediterranean region, lost or deteriorated function of the remainder and fragmentation of their habitats to the detriment of the species they harbour.

The Tour du Valat celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2014. Have a look at the book which was edited for this event. It gives a very nice overview of the work accomplished over these six decades.

Coto Doñana (WWF-Spain) – haven for one of world’s critically endangered cats

Doñana National Park, Dunes and Marram Grass
Coto Doñana, its name alone conjures images of the shimmering summer heat of Andalucia in southern Spain.

The park’s three distinct ecosystems – marshland, Mediterranean scrubland, and coastal mobile dunes and beaches – host millions of birds, migratory and resident. Among them are several pairs of Spanish Imperial Eagles (Aquila adalberti), categorized as vulnerable by IUCN. Its land-bound animals include the critically endangered Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).

A young Spanish ornithologist, José Valverde, raised the alarm in the summer of 1960 on hearing of plans for a vast drainage scheme for the area. His call sparked an initiative that eventually concluded with the area’s purchase and transfer to the newly formed Spanish arm of an equally new World Wildlife Fund (See Luc Hoffmann, l’homme qui s’obstine à préserver la Terre, p71-85).

Doñana is a national park in the intimate embrace of its surrounding communities. Its modern population of 200,000 extends a long line of people who have shaped the local landscape, for better or worse, since the earliest human settlements. That makes it an ideal place to illustrate how sustainable development is possible, albeit difficult.

Today’s conservation efforts by WWF-Spain focus on restoring farmland to its original wetland condition and conserving one of the two remaining wild populations of Iberian lynx. Strawberry growing, a mainstay of the local economy, threatens both the quantity and quality of water flowing through the park. Working with both local farmers and, via other WWF national offices in northern Europe, major supermarket chains, WWF Spain has helped the prospects for conservation. Its efforts have improved practices related to illegal land use, biodiversity management and water consumption. Its work has also moved farms away from existing or future biodiversity corridors.

The Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP) – a beacon of hope for Balkans nature

Tour du Valat : flamingo banding in the fifties
Ecologists and environmental scientists pinpointed Prespa’s exceptional natural beauty and rare biodiversity as early as the 1960s. The area, in the heart of the Balkans, is shared by Greece, Albania and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. At its heart lie two lakes, Mikri Prespa and Megali Prespa, whose natural richness depends on appropriately managing their large watersheds. While the lakes lie at 853m, many of the peaks around them exceed 2000m. Today Prespa is home to the largest colony of Dalmatian pelicans (Pelecanus crispus) in the world, with more than 1,000 pairs.

Lake Mikri Prespa’s conservation poses a significant diplomatic challenge. Its ownership ties three countries whose domestic politics and crossborder relations have historically been far from easy. Luc Hoffmann’s personal diplomacy has often proven key. Not least were his dealings with the Greek military dictatorship through to its collapse. When it did, plans for a Prespa national park were nearly fully fledged.

In 1974 the colonels’ dictatorship came to an end. One might have imagined that everything done by their government between 1967 and 1974 would be defunct. Thankfully, the national park was an exception to the rule.“
Luc Hoffmann, MAVA President Emeritus

In 2000, a joint declaration by the Prime Ministers of the three host countries created the Transboundary Prespa Park. It aims to protect the area’s ecological value through collaboration between the three states, and also to promote the economic prosperity of the local communities of each one.