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The Observer, Sir Julian Huxley and the WWF

The Observer, Sir Julian Huxley and the WWF

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: fastwalker on Nov 09, 2010
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01/09/2011

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How the Observer brought theWWF into being
It is 50 years since Julian Huxley, writing on the plight of African animals in the Observer, inspired the creation of the World Wildlife Fund
Kate Kellaway- The Observer - 7 November 2010
Almost exactly 50 years ago the
Observer 
published – on 13November 1960 – the first of three extraordinarily influentialarticles by Julian Huxley that led to the founding of the WorldWildlifeFund (WWF). The header of the first article served as arallying cry: "Millions of wild animals have already disappearedfrom Africa this century. Does the wildlife of the continent nowface extinction – threatened by increases in population and thegrowth of industry in the emergent nations? What, if anything,can be done to safeguard it?"Huxley had been on a tour of 10 central and east Africancountries for Unesco and saw thatconservationwas an issue toeclipse all others. "Politics we shall always have with us, but if wildlife is destroyed, it is gone forever, and if it is seriouslyreduced, its restoration will be a lengthy and expensivebusiness." The articles explained the threats, includingovergrazing of livestock and poaching, to African biodiversity. They were illustrated with Huxley's surprisingly successfulphotographs – a young rhino in Kenya, a bull giraffe in Natal, afish eagle spreading its wings high above the Murchison Fallsnational park, Uganda. Reading the articles now, the toneseems very much of its time but none the worse for that:authoritative, patrician and calm. Huxley writes like a doctorwith bad news to impart who wishes to spare his patient unduealarm.In every account of the founding of the WWF, Max Nicholson,environmentalist, author, ornithologist and director general of Britain's Nature Conservancy, is credited as its architect. Sowhere did Huxley fit in? According to Joe Cain, senior lecturer inscience history at University College London, Huxley was a"classic ideas man with a supreme confidence in science, a way
 
of catching the mood of a moment and of seeing his waythrough to a solution." Nicholson was a "day-to-day generalmanager, rolling up his sleeves, getting his hands dirty,working on data".But as one unravels the WWF's beginnings, it emerges thatwhat is now the world's largest non-governmental conservationcharity, with 5 million members, might not have started at allwithout the contribution of an obscure but fascinating thirdman.Enter Victor Stolan: hotel owner, Czechoslovakian refugee,
Observer 
reader – and unsung hero. Stolan had no knowledgeof conservation and, unlike the eventual founders of the WWF(ornithologists all birds of a feather), no binoculars slunground his neck. But when he read Huxley's pieces in the
Observer 
, he recognised that there was no time to be lost. Heknew the answer to the paper's challenge: an internationalfundraising organisation must be founded without delay. On 6December 1960, he sat down at his home in South Kensington,got out his headed notepaper and, on a typewriter with a wornribbon, wrote to Huxley."It was with admiration and anxiety that I read your articles inthe
Observer 
. Only reluctantly, I add mine to the large numberof letters etc which you must have received in response to youroutstanding and astounding survey…."He kept the congratulations brief and pressed on to a criticismthat, by implication, extended to Huxley himself. "Since mynaturalisation, I am proud to call this country mine, but I cannothelp feeling that it has become a country of understatements,of gentle talk, with not enough push…" And "push" was whatStolan went on to do. He urged Huxley to put him in touch witha "single and uninhibited mindwith whom ideas can bedeveloped and speedilly [sic] directed towards accumulatingsome millions of pounds without mobilising commissions,committees etc as there is no time for Victorian procedure".He wrote in the spirit of someone who believes he can changethe world. To his credit, Huxley responded positively and puthim in touch with Nicholson. They met in early January 1961and Nicholson encouraged Stolan to put his ideas on paper. Itwas back to the typewriter for Stolan who produced a brilliant,
 
lengthy and eccentric memorandum. In it, he argued that thePope and Archbishop of Canterbury should be petitioned:"Nobody is in too high a place to lend a hand to defendcreation." Further and more cannily he proposed "newtycoons" be approached for funds and encouraged to create a"shining monument in history".Nicholson was impressed enough with Stolan's suggestions toconsult Guy Mountfort, director of a large advertising agency,to see if they might work. He got the thumbs up. It was, asNicholson later acknowledged, a turning point. Three monthslater, in May 1961, Nicholson invited a group of importantfigures, including Peter Scott, the ornithologist who laterbecome the WWF's first chairman, along with Huxley, Mountfortand Stolan, to consider Nicholson's draft document: "How toSave the World's Wildlife". Half-a-dozen more meetingsfollowed in the spring and summer of 1961.Over time, however, Stolan was dropped from these meetingsand is reported to have been bitterly hurt by the exclusion.What went wrong? Nicholson's sniffy letter to Huxley, writtenon 9 January 1961, in which he records his first impressions of Stolan, tells all. Stolan's record as an hotelier ("an unfortunateexperience with a country hotel") did not cut much ice and hisCzechoslovakian origins were disdainfully noted. "Mr Stolan israther too much the naive enthusiast and rather too little thepractical man of affairs to be very much help," Nicholsonconcluded.Reading his letter 50 years on, one feels a keenvicarious indignation. For Stolan's naive enthusiasm wasinvaluable, along with his recognition that fine newspaperarticles were not on their own enough and that an Englishman'swords must be turned into deeds. Thinking about the history now, one wonders how much theindividual voice the solitary initiative still counts. Onespeculates, too, about what it was that gave Huxley's voicesuch force. This was a period in history – and at the
Observer 
when voices carried. Under David Astor's editorship, the paperhad earned a reputation as the voice of postwar liberal Britain,although it alienated the establishment with its opposition of Suez in 1956. It had a collegiate atmosphere and a highlyintellectual staff – from George Orwell to Conor Cruise O'Brien, Terence Kilmartin to Anthony Sampson.

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