Icons and insights – five lessons in saving life on Earth from a quarter century of conservation

Lynda Mansson, Director General of the MAVA Foundation, introduces a new series of stories offering insight and inspiration for contemporary conservation from five iconic natural sites supported by the Foundation and its distinguished founder, Luc Hoffmann.

It’s been said that sharing knowledge is a way of achieving immortality.

For the MAVA Foundation, soon to end its grant-making after funding frontline conservation in some of the world’s most unique natural environments for more than a quarter of a century, it’s a compelling proposition.

Sharing our story and what we have learnt with the wider conservation community so that others may benefit and succeed, is both an honour and an obligation.

Beginnings and icons

MAVA was born of the passion, vision and adventure of one man, our founder, Luc Hoffmann, an extraordinary naturalist who believed fiercely in the value and protection of the planet’s wild splendour.

In his lifetime, Luc became one of the founding fathers of modern conservation, helping set up WWF as well as other celebrated conservation organisations such as Wetlands International and IUCN, and helping establish the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

His enthusiasm for the natural world, especially birds, began in childhood. Later, while researching his PhD in biology, he was enchanted by the unique wetlands of the Camargue in southern France, where he went on to set up the Tour du Valat biological research station, inspiring generations of ecologists.

Luc also fell in love with what have become some of the world’s most iconic natural sites: the Prespa Lakes in Greece, Northern Macedonia and Albania, Doñana in Spain, the Banc d’Arguin in Mauritania, and the Bijagós Islands in Guinea Bissau.

Created in 1994 to support the conservation of these sites as well as conservation more broadly, the MAVA Foundation has since become a key funder of global conservation. Today, led by Luc’s son André, we support partners in the Mediterranean, West Africa and Switzerland, as well as work on sustainable economy, green finance and responsible resource use.

Insights and inspiration

You may or may not have heard of us. Our preference has been to let our partners’ work do the talking – but times are changing, and in 2022, the MAVA Foundation will close its doors as planned by our founder.

Creating a strong conservation community and encouraging collaboration have always been top priorities. Now working with our field partners to ensure they can continue their work once we have gone is also vital as we seek to secure our legacy.

In this series of stories, we want to offer you a taste of what we have learnt from working in ‘our’ iconic sites – the Camargue, the Bijagós, Doñana, Prespa and Banc d’Arguin – and introduce you to some of the extraordinary people working in them.

These unique places are our heritage as a Foundation, and their conservation continues to inspire our work today as we hope it will also motivate others tomorrow.

There is time enough for rigorous analysis and lesson-learning, and we will offer those too. For now, we want to celebrate some of our partners’ achievements and share some of our insights about doing good conservation – from the magic of applying good science and working with local cultures, to the need for transboundary collaboration, innovative finance, and the renewal of our relationship with nature.

We hope you are inspired by these stories and the people in them. And if you are, that will you share them with others. To be of value, knowledge, like money, must circulate.

Lynda Mansson, Director General, MAVA Foundation

Read the stories

Conservation Lesson #1  from the Camargue – Science & Advocacy

Do good science and make sure it addresses real-world challenges. And for real impact, add advocacy with partners, informed by practical solutions and evidence of nature’s value.

Conservation Lesson #2  from the Bijagós – Biocultural Approach

Acknowledge, respect and safeguard the unique values, culture, practices and rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and how their cultural and spiritual traditions integrate conservation, enabling them to manage territories and resources in ways that benefit people and nature.

Conservation Lesson #3  from Doñana – Nature-Based Solutions

Saving life on Earth relies on all relevant stakeholders jointly developing nature-based solutions that deliver prosperity and well-being for people while respecting and maintaining the integrity of healthy natural systems.

Conservation Lesson #4  from Prespa – Transboundary Collaboration

Conservation beyond borders relies on sustained collaboration at all levels between many different actors. For success, recognise realities on the ground, listen deeply, enable local people to take the lead, deliver benefits, and commit to the long-term.

Conservation Lesson #5  from the Banc d’Arguin– Sustainable Financing

As the twin crises of nature loss and climate breakdown converge, conservation organisations should pursue a variety of innovative financing mechanisms that secure and scale investment from the public and private sectors, unlocking additional funds and sustainable financing for conservation and development.

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