The conservation sector is built on the strength of its dedicated and passionate volunteers.
I’m therefore sad to have to report the loss of one of our most passionate champions for birds of prey. The reflections at the end of this represent just a small fraction of my colleagues who knew and loved Mick. If we’d have included everyone, this would have been a book.
Thank you to Steve Downing from the Northern England Raptor Forum for writing this short obituary.
26 August 1947 – 21 October 2015
Mick was born in Lancashire, and as a young boy he visited the moors to see short-eared owls and other upland birds. These first impressions would eventually lead to his passion for ornithology.
His working life started on a hill farm before joining the RAF Regiment. At 30 years of age he was invalided out of military service and he returned to farming. Unfortunately his old back injury forced him out of farming and he took on several environment based jobs including working on an RSPB reserve.
He worked tirelessly on behalf of birds as President of Scarborough Field Naturalists, Chairman of the Ryedale Naturalists, Regional BTO Representative, Executive Committee member of the Whitby Naturalists Club and Yorkshire Naturalist’ Union, Chairman of the South Ryedale & East Yorkshire Raptor Study Group and member of NERF.
Mick had a particular passion for hen harrier and worked as a volunteer for NE. Despite recent poor health he continued to get into the uplands to study birds. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 and passed away in October.
NERF and the RSPB would like to celebrate Mick’s achievements and extend our sympathies to his wife Helene and his family.
Memories of Mick
I remember once listening to Radio 4’s Today programme about conflicts in the uplands when Mick’s distinctive voice emanated from the radio. He was particularly annoyed because his two traditional merlin nest sites had just been burnt so he described the moors as nothing more than 'grouse factories'. He had strong views which he put across simply but eloquently, and grouse factories is a phrase that has stayed with me.
Right to the very end he was still telephoning me to ensure that things we discussed with were going to continue after he was gone. The very last thing he wanted was recognition for North Yorkshire’s Nightjar population as a Special Protection Area. Having spent many years travelling round at night counting them, he wanted to make sure his data was being put to good use.
Tim MellingSenior Conservation OfficerRSPB
RSPB staff seconded to the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project [LMDP] really enjoyed his two visits to Langholm Moor in 2015. Despite his illness, he made a tremendous contribution to the task of locating nests on the moor, whilst the Hen Harriers displayed overhead. It was an immensely enjoyable day for everyone. He made a very valuable contribution to the protection of birds of prey in general and Hen Harriers in particular. He leaves a void that will be difficult to fill.
Staffan RoosSenior Conservation ScientistRSPB
Mick was a unique character. When you picked up the phone and hear that distinctive “Now then!”, you knew it was best to clear your diary for the next hour or so. But you also knew you were going to hear some insightful analysis of the issues of the day, delivered in that straightforward, down to earth manner that made Mick such a passionate advocate.
We sometimes get wrapped up in the details and I often think we could do with a few more Micks, to cut through the nonsense and tell us all exactly how it is. Birds of prey and hen harriers in particular, are undoubtedly Mick’s legacy. One of the last things Mick said to me was to make sure we kept fighting for them. That leaves us no choice. For Mick, we must keep fighting, and we must win.
Jeff KnottHead of Nature PolicyRSPB
When I visited him shortly after he started treatment, all Mick would talk about was the hen harrier he’d spotted from the car on the way home from hospital, and the new 4x4 he was planning to get, so he could access more places to go birding! Typical Mick – a more determined and passionate soul you couldn’t find. Incredibly sad and a huge loss for bird of prey conservation.
Blanaid DenmanHen Harrier Life Project ManagerRSPB
I had the honour of presenting Mick with an RSPB Avocet badge, in recognition of over 25 years of tireless volunteering. He contributed in so many different ways, from those early days at Blacktoft Sands; to helping with the Yorkshire Belle, on the RSPB Skua and Shearwater Cruises; or safeguarding the vulnerable nest sites of his beloved Harriers.
His passion for birds and conservation never waned. Even in his last days he lay, dressed from head to toe in his Paramo outdoor gear, watching from his bed in the garden of St Catherine’s hospice, celebrating a Marsh Harrier passing overhead – a magic moment. I hope we can do Mick proud and turn one of his last wishes into reality by working together to safeguard one of the most extraordinary areas of coastal scrubland in Yorkshire, at RAF Cowden.
Keith ClarksonBempton Cliffs Site ManagerRSPB
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Mick in early 2013 in Oman where he was combining his love of birds with a visit to the area he was stationed in while serving with the RAF Regiment in the 1970s. His recounting of tough times and serious military action, while we birded around the wadis and khawrs, was punctuated by frequent commentary of “ooh, look, a Short-toed Eagle..” and the like.
Relaxed, affable and completely content to engage anyone we crossed paths with in conversation, doors magically opened to Mick when he revealed his military past in the country. He was treated, rightly, like royalty. He proudly took us to the scenic and fragrant rubbish dump in Salalah, in Southern Oman, where he’d seen ‘a few’ eagles two days previously. His look of satisfaction and happiness while we stood surrounded by 400 Steppe Eagles was wonderful to see.
Guy AndersonPrincipal Research ManagerRSPB
When I moved to the RSPB's Newcastle Office I soon came into contact with Mick through the hen harrier hotline. Being a southerner I struggled understanding the names of the sites he used to leave in his messages, so I would often end up calling him back. Mick decided the best way to acclimatise me was to take me on a tour of the North York Moors and so the next week we met up in Pickering and headed out onto the Moors.
Part of this introduction was to meet a number of gamekeepers, the first was a face to face meeting with a gamekeeper who was keen to have a frank exchange of views with someone from the RSPB about all the negative press produced about his profession. Thanks Mick! After a robust start to the conversation we soon settled into talking about species that were close to all our hearts - lapwing, barn owl and kestrel. I think I passed the test.
Over the next few years I was privileged to go out a number of times, it was never a dull trip for me and I learnt much about upland management issues on those days out.
Nick AdamsFormer Area Conservation Manager Northeast England, Yorkshire & HumberRSPB
Mick’s commitment to the protection of Birds of Prey across the North of England is legendary. He was instrumental in forming the SPREYRSG and overseeing the Group integration in to the Northern England Raptor Form.
As you would expect NERF is full of bird of prey experts and Mick was first amongst equals. He was also a man of contradiction. He used his undoubted skill and endless contact list to make projects happen. There was no ‘no’ in Mick’s vocabulary; no compromise. When there was work to do, it was done. Then when it was finished, there was no self-congratulation, just quietly, then not so quietly, moving on to the next protection job. I have been involved in many BoP protection schemes and if I ever got stuck I would simply ask myself ‘what would Mick do?’
Mick has decided that this last contribution to protecting birds of prey will be to haunt the persecutors; the raptor killers. The list is long Mick; no rest for you mate.
Steve DowningCalderdale Raptor Study GroupNERF
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