The Spanish Doñana Biological Station, inaugurated in 1964, poses two historiographical puzzles. First, it was the first large project of the World Wildlife Fund, which is usually seen as a response to the very specific post-imperial challenges of African parks. Second, it was the first non-alpine park in Spain, and although it was designed and inaugurated in the midst of Francisco Franco’s nationalist dictatorship, it was an explicitly transnational project. This paper approaches Doñana’s unique story through the concept of ecological diplomacy. It points to the diplomatic strategies mobilized by a small group of ecologists with managerial and financial skills. Promoting Doñana, British ornithologists presented it as an African wilderness, which created tensions with Spanish ecologists, themselves colonial scientists. Ecological diplomacy, moreover, refers to a characteristic period between conservation diplomacy and environmental diplomacy. In it, conservation was understood as the top-down management of foreign territories for research purposes. While this can be partly understood as the globalization of the Swiss model for conservation, it arrived in Spain through the mediation of the French Tour du Valat station and of English ecology. Finally, stressing the ecological dimension of this type of conservation diplomacy helps in studying the role of the science of ecology and its transformations. As Doñana became a national park, the WWF’s early emphasis on research was replaced by a new attention to recreation. Max Nicholson’s participation in the International Biology Program granted him an opportunity to favor this model when Doñana became a national park.
This essay is part of a special issue entitled Science Diplomacy, edited by Giulia Rispoli and Simone Turchetti.