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Remembering Nick Williams — a raptor conservation groundbreaker and an inspiration to all of us at the VCF

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Nick’s untimely and sudden departure last weekend leaves many of us here at the VCF – and around the world – grasping for words, for a sense, and for fond memories. And Jovan and I have many of those. Like when Nick invited us all to play a game of cricket in the middle of this tiniest park in suburban Mumbai, next to the rather horrid hotel where we were having a workshop. Or when he invited us for a precious and rare beer at his base in Abu Dhabi, following another workshop or summit. Or when in deep rural Extremadura in Spain, he joined some of us for a football game in shorts and in his field shoes. Or when, together with Andre Botha, and the two of us, high up in a hotel bar overlooking the Manila bay, he cheered “we did it!” celebrating the approval of the Vulture Multi-species Action Plan (Vulture MsAP) that had been enthusiastically endorsed a few hours earlier by the plenary of the conference of the parties of the Convention for Migratory Species.

It was during this project – intense, hugely ambitious, critically important but extremely successful, that we got to know Nick. His task was as immense as unrealistic – develop in 18 months a global blueprint for vulture conservation that governments across the world could officially endorse. Nick would add – a blueprint that was actually usable, focused, and that made a difference. Difficult process, complicated meetings, endless revisions, and corrections, but an amazing journey, always closely accompanied by Nick. The truth is that the Vulture MsAP was developed and endorsed in record time, it is being used and referred to, and is today still providing the framework for vulture conservation worldwide.

Nick was a discrete and private man – he used to stay in a different hotel from the main group when at workshops or conferences, but he could also be quite social and engaging, particularly if birdwatching or raptors were concerned. His passion for birds of prey was childish at times, contagious and intense – his bald head zooming the sky was a feature of many a field trip after a few days’ work indoors. His drive for action on the ground – cursing the bureaucracy inherent to a UN convention that served as his working place, was evident. He really wanted to see change, real action, change in the populations of the raptors he loved, and for that, he was ready to insist and press — sometimes with an unwavering style, his discomfort with room politics, his lack of patience for bureaucracy quite clear. But his passion for his beloved merlins and other birds of prey, his drive for raptors, his commitment to a life-long mission of making this a better world for those birds, was unfaltering, intense, unique.

You did it, Nick. The Vulture MsAP is here, thanks to you. Game on, wherever you are!

José Tavares & Jovan Andevski

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