CULTURE

Antypas Award for Luc Hoffmann

The man who has done perhaps more than any other non-Greek to promote conservation in this country and who has supported the work of many local environmental groups over the past 50 years was honored last night by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature. Luc Hoffmann – a Swiss ecologist, ornithologist and pioneer in the conservation of wetlands, a man who has contributed to saving a number of important ecosystems such as the Prespes Lakes in northern Greece – was presented with the society’s Byron Antypas Award for 2005 by the president of the republic at a ceremony in Athens last night. At the Goulandris-Horn Foundation in Plaka, President Karolos Papoulias presented the award to Hoffmann, who first came to Greece in 1958 to attend a conference organized by Antypas, then general secretary of the society, and the Hellenic Alpine Club. It marked the beginning of a long friendship and association not only with Antypas but with Greece. Reviewing Hoffmann’s work and its importance to Greece, society board member Don Matthews said his career «reflects and parallels the development of the Greek environmental movement itself.» «In fact, his presence in Greece has done more perhaps than anyone else’s to support, promote and inspire many of those early groups, and to help a variety of organizations and people who today are at the forefront of the movement,» Matthews said. Hoffmann came to chair a working group set up in the early 1960s by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to study Greek wetlands and birds and to coordinate specific programs to promote the protection of Greek nature, which were often forwarded to the appropriate Greek authorities by Antypas. As chief executive of the International Waterfowl Research Bureau (IWRB), Hoffmann was involved in serious research into Greek wetlands. «When I became chief executive of the IWRB in 1962, we organized some expeditions to various Mediterranean countries in order to identify the major winter quarters of waterfowl,» Matthews quoted Hoffmann as saying. «To our surprise, Greece, which had been known as a rather dry country, had the largest number of wintering waterfowl.» The IWRB was later to become the critical force in establishing the Convention on Wetlands – signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 – an intergovernmental treaty on the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Hoffmann was also one of the founders of WWF International in 1961 as a sister organization to the IUCN. «Hoffmann remained the basic IUCN-WWF international connection with Greece and as vice president of the organization he was in a good position to help our country,» Matthews said. This organization helped many important programs. In one case, it provided material to the society’s Biological Center in Evros and to the Biological Center in Prespes run by Elliniki Etairia (Hellenic Society for the Protection of Environmental and Cultural Heritage). Funds were provided for Filodasiki’s (Friends of the Forest) work of reforesting Kaisariani and Mount Hymettus and programs for the monk seals and loggerhead turtles. According to to Matthews, it was Hoffmann’s work and influence of 10 years and his alliance with Antypas which pressured the Greek goverment to sign and finally ratify the International Ramsar Convention in 1974, the first modern treaty seeking to conserve natural resources on a global scale. «This was to have tremendous consequences for Greece and for its 11 important Ramsar sites,» Matthews said. Prespes It was through the efforts of an alliance of several groups and individuals including Hoffmann and Antypas which convinced the Greek government to designate Prespes as a national park in 1974 and eventually led to the establishment of the Society for the Protection of Prespes in 1991 by 10 foreign and Greek environmental organizations. Hoffmann became this society’s first president, and it was through his generosity that the society has been able to operate for some 15 years. The society’s proposal to set up the first Balkan International Park with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) was approved by the Greek government and it is the society which coordinates all efforts to advance the park’s activities. In 2003 the Prespes municipal council made Hoffmann an honorary citizen. Among his other achievements has been his work, in cooperation with Thymios Papayiannis and others, to set up the Greek branch of the WWF to better organize local initiatives. Established in 1995, WWF Hellas has become one of the country’s major environmental organizations and still receives active support from Hoffmann. In 1999, Hoffmann was awarded the insignia of Commander of the Order of Merit by the Greek president for his contribution to the protection of Greek nature. Power of example According to Matthews, Hoffmann’s chief achievements have been as a teacher and through setting an example. «First he has shown us the need for cooperation, the need to work together as groups, to combine our forces, to seek out partners amongst NGOs and scientists, government officials, in business as in the international community,» Matthews said. «Secondly, he has shown us the absolute need to seek the best scientific information. Only with this can conservationists convince government officials and the general public to what they think should be done. «And thirdly,» Matthews concluded, «he has taught us the need for patience, for perseverance, for quiet insistence. Conservation matters move slowly; problems and frictions among groups are rife and everywhere; ignorance surrounds us on all sides. It is only calm patience and good will that win out in the end. I think Luc’s life in conservation bears this out.»