In memory of Fritz Hirt: a leading figure in the formation of BirdLife

On 17 July 2021 BirdLife International lost its honorary member Fritz Hirt, one of the leading Swiss conservationists, a few days after his 76th birthday. Fritz Hirt was an integral part of the formation of BirdLife International, which would not exist in its current form without his visionary leadership.


By Raffael Ayé, Director, BirdLife Switzerland

Fritz Hirt became Honorary Member of BirdLife International in 2013 at the BirdLife World Conference in Ottawa. Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado of Japan, as Honorary President of BirdLife International, underlined his leading role in the transition from ICBP (our former incarnation) to BirdLife. Fritz started to be active on an international level in 1977 when the European bird protection organisations had their first meeting in Mainz in Germany and later founded WEBS (Working Groupe of European Bird Protecting Societies). At that time the ICBP was a federation of conservation organisations but also scientific institutes and even state agencies and had no professional staff yet.

Fritz helped to develop both WEBS and ICBP. In 1985 he organized the European ICBP Conference and the WEBS meeting in Rapperswil in Switzerland. The continent was still in Cold War but Switzerland was neutral, which made it possible for Eastern European delegates to attend the meeting on neutral ground. The contacts established at this occasion made it possible for the ICBP to react instantly after the fall of the Iron Curtain between Western and Eastern Europe in 1989, and to start its Eastern European Programme. Together with other organisations, Fritz created the Partner to Partner development support scheme. During this time, BirdLife Switzerland, under the presidency of Fritz, offered particular support to SOS in Slovakia and MME in Hungary, but also many other new organisations including those in the Caucasus region and in Central Asia.

This big campaign of the European bird conservation organisations also contributed to the development of ICBP. Fritz participated in many meetings with the ICBP director Christoph Imboden, Johanna Winkelman from the Netherlands, Alistair Gammell from UK, Joe Sultana from Malta and many others, and in 1992 the mission was accomplished: BirdLife International became the successor of the old ICBP. Fritz continued to be active in BirdLife International and was a member of the European Committee from 1993 to 1999, which he chaired for some time and a member of the Global Council.

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