You can find this interview in Letter N°10 sent to the members of the Friends of the Tour du Valat.
Inspired by the Tour du Valat where he completed his PhD, Mike Moser has devoted his career to conservation. He was Director of Wetlands International from 1989-99, and since then has supported landscape-scale conservation initiatives around the world, particularly through the Global Environment Facility. Mike was on the Board of Tour du Valat for 2 decades and is currently on the Board of the MAVA Foundation for Nature. He very actively supports the North Devon UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in SW England – where he lives and manages an organic farm.
When did you first come to Tour du Valat and what was the occasion ?
June 1978 ! I was in the final year of my BSc at Durham University and was seeking opportunities for a “stage” / internship. I had two offers: one from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean (but no airfare or accommodation offered) ; and one from Luc Hoffmann in the Camargue offering me one year at Tour du Valat with accommodation, all meals, use of a car and 500FF per month in my pocket. The decision was easy, and on the evening of my last exam I jumped into my red Renault 4 and drove 1,600km to Tour du Valat – the start of a lifelong relationship !
What was your first impression ?
The Camargue is a harsh environment for fieldwork! From the scorching days of midsummer to the sometimes frigid winters and the mistrals of the spring and autumn, the climate could be tough – and not to mention the insects! But in each of those seasons it was a land of extraordinary beauty. The light sparkling off the water and salt crystals in the salines ; the clarity of those winter days when even Mt Ventoux was visible ; and the reeds and tamarisks bending to the mistral. What a magical place !
What is your best memory at the Tour du Valat ?
The close-knit and friendly community. Those who were living at Tour du Valat would regularly gather in the cour du mas in the evening after a day of hard fieldwork. The end to the fierce heat of the day, the buzzing insects, people from so many different cultures and of course the Pastis were an intoxicating mix for a young student – one he will never forget.
What was your best encounter at the Tour du Valat ?
Luc Hoffmann, for sure! It was only years after I left Tour du Valat in 1983 having completed my PhD that I began to fully understand the influence of this great but modest man who would regularly join us for dinner in the cantine, bearing a few bottles of fine wine. After two decades on the Board of Tour du Valat and today, as a Board member of the MAVA Foundation which carries on his work, I now know both his continuing influence on me as a person, and more particularly his immense contribution to the global nature conservation movement. I am privileged to have known and worked with him.
What emblematic species of the Camargue do you prefer ?
Well it has to be the Purple Heron, one of the subjects of my PhD thesis. John Krebs, who was working at that time on bee-eaters in the Camargue, always reminded me how important it was to choose one’s study animal carefully so that it was easy to observe and was active only during civilised hours. Sadly, I made the wrong choice – but what a fascinating bird !
Why did you join the Association of Friends of the Tour du Valat ?
To support Tour du Valat which has had such an influence on my life, and to keep in touch with friends. I’m a member of the Board of the Association, but it’s not easy to play a useful role from a long distance, nor to engage with the day-to-day activities that local members can enjoy. But it’s good to know that the Association is there, providing a mechanism for staff, collaborators and friends (past present and future) to engage.
Do you have any advice or messages to pass on to future generations who will might visit Tour du Valat ?
Treasure every day at Tour du Valat. These were some of the most formative years of my life – and maybe they will be the same for you. Only the future will tell.