Michael McCarthy

McCarthyIn a month’s time, on 26 March, Michael McCarthy leaves The Independent newspaper as their Environment Editor. With his departure I will no longer hesitate over which newspaper to buy – I can just pick up the Guardian every time knowing that I won’t be missing a McCarthy article in The Indie.  Many nature conservationists’ reading lives will be simplified by knowing that there will no longer be a great writer on nature conservation to be found regularly in any of our daily national newspapers.

Michael McCarthy was born on the posh side of the Mersey in Birkenhead and read Modern Languages at Liverpool University.  He worked on the Bolton Evening News and then the Daily Mirror (first in Manchester and then in London).  After 14 years on the tabloids he moved first to The Times and then the Indie on Sunday before The Indie (27 years on the broadsheets).

Mike was named as the Environment Journalist of the Year in 1991, 2003 and 2006, and even more prestigiously, the Specialist Writer of the Year in 2001.  He was the first journalist to receive the RSPB’s highest honour, The RSPB Medal (in 2007), and received the Marsh Award in 2009 and the Zoological Society of London’s Silver Award in 2011.

While I worked at the RSPB there were several occasions when I knew that Mike was the journalist who would write up a story in the best way for nature and the most interesting way for his readers.  It was Mike’s idea for The Independent to offer a prize for the research that clinched the reasons behind the decline of urban house sparrows – no other paper would have done this.  And it was to Mike that we turned in 2001, the year of foot and mouth, when ospreys started nesting in the Lake District – The Independent broke the good news with a photograph on its front page.  There were many other occasions on which we worked together to get prominent stories about nature into the pages of The Indie.  Nature conservationists in Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife and Buglife will similarly feel the loss of McCarthy being only a phone call away.

Here are a few recent examples of Mike’s commentary on nature conservation issues: badger cull, neonicotinoids, Rio summit, loss of abundance.  And his excellent book, Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, was very favourably reviewed and remains an excellent introduction to, and treatment of, the issue of declining migrant birds.

I have shared many a bottle of claret and champagne with Michael McCarthy and chewed the fat about wildlife, nature conservationists, politicians, literature, poetry, football but the conversation always came back to wildlife as that is his passion and mine.

When asked his favourite flower Mike says it’s the greater butterfly orchid for its delicacy.  It’s a plant that often grows in shade and its bright yellow flowers light up the shadows.  But Mike also mentioned that being the first journalist allowed to see the lady’s slipper orchid at the site where it has been secretly protected since the 1930s was a highlight of his journalistic career – and there aren’t many journalists, even environment journalists, who would look at the world that way and that’s one of the things that makes Mr McCarthy so special.

The silver-washed fritillary is his favourite butterfly because of the slightly flattened curve of the leading edge of the forewing reminds Mike of Georgian silver – and that’s not a line you’d hear from other journalists either.

When it comes to birds, the redshank ‘s wild lonely call takes Mike back to the Dee Marshes but who wouldn’t have a soft spot for the cuckoo?

Mike McCarthy has been, outstandingly, the premier writer on nature and nature conservation in the print media for many years – we nature conservationists will miss him.  And, I have to say, nature conservation is less and less well served by the print media these days, and with the loss of Mike from The Independent there is no big name left to ensure that nature conservation gets thoughtful and passionate coverage.  The good news is that Mike will continue to write his weekly Nature Studies column for The Indie, and rumour has it that there are some books in the pipeline too.

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati del.icio.us Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

20 Replies to “Michael McCarthy”

  1. Fully agree that Mike is a great journalist and one of the reasons why I buy the Independent. As well as covering the rare and threatened, I find he is very good at writing about the pleasures of encountering commonplace species and the importance of such encounters for one’s well-being. Pity he’s leaving but it will be interesting to see what projects he goes on to.

  2. Mike’s pen has been sharper than a Sword-leaved helleborine. Thank you on behalf of all the wildlife you have defended with your words.

    Buglife CEO

  3. When I edited the book Cheshire’s Favourite Wildlife last year, Michael McCarthy agreed to write a contribution. I asked for 200 words by the end of the weekend and, sure enough, in my e-mail inbox in the small hours of Monday morning was a beautifully-written piece, exactly 200 words long: a consummate professional!

    As Mark mentions, he wrote about the call of the Redshank – tleu-hu-hu – on the Dee.

    We are lucky that Michael McCarthy has agreed to return to near his Wirral birthplace and speak next month at the BTO NorthWest Members’ Conference on Saturday 23rd March. That will surely be worth listening to.

    1. David – many thanks for that comment; as yous ay, a consummate professional. And Mike will certainly be worth listening to at your meeting.

  4. I’ve never met Mike, but of course I feel like I know him through his ‘precision-guided’ writing. I do hope (as you hint) that this post of yours will be an accolade rather than a eulogy, as Nature can’t afford to lose such a stately and measured voice – especially now that the clamour from Whitehall is so strident and unreasonable.

    1. Charlie – you and Mike would hit it off well! Mike McCarthy is alive and kicking and has thousands more words in him…

  5. Hello Mark – your point about the national media’s failure to cover nature conservation in a meaningful way is well made. It isn’t just that conservation struggles to find a sympathetic ear, but rather that it struggles to find an ear at all.

    During my time working in the press office for the RSPB I ntoiced the pool of informed and engaged writers on the topic getting smaller and smaller.

    The real joy of having journalists like Mike in post is that they understand why conservation is important – why it is news and why we should care about it – and will fight with the newsdesk to get it infront of the people riding the District Line.

    The vaccuum created by this lack of understanding in the media is filled with bad science, popular prejudice and the odd cute picture of a penguin. This is why the departure of Mike and journalists like him is a loss for all of us.

    1. John – many thanks and I agree with you. Where is the next generation of environment journalists?

  6. Thanks for writing this tribute to Mike. An old school journalist who takes pride in the accuracy of his writing. When CEH was in trouble, his front page article took the debate right up to Number 10. He has told the nature conservationists and the wildlife enthusiasts’ stories and fought our causes countless times.

    He joined us on a seabird survey for a few days in order to do some research. What a thoroughly nice person he was, the complete opposite of all we’ve heard about Fleet Street journalists and a pleasure to have on board the boat.

    If you are reading this Mike, good luck with getting the next book finished and published!

  7. Funny because I was musing at the fact the local paper over here on Jersey has a regular page highlighting various wildlife issues on the island, everything from species counts, reports from the local government and various other issues. Found it brilliant and was wondering how many local or national papers in th UK had the same deal, one less now.
    But the sad fact is I was wondering if there would ever be a replacement or will wildlife/conservation issues take a back seat in our national papers. I also wonder how many up and coming conservationist or simply those who just enjoy wildlife, whom they’ll be able to read in national papers. I struggle to read books and papers because of my dyslexia, I do try, so I have to confess to have never read an article by Mike if only publishers went a couple of fonts size bigger things good have been so different…..

  8. Thanks Mark, a great piece. I was at the RSPB members’ weekend on the occasion Mike was awarded the RSPB medal, and I remember feeling delighted that his work was being acknowledged in that way. I look forward to reading more from him in future, in whatever medium!

  9. A well deserved “retirement” for an exceptional journalist and friend of wildlife. What a shame we cannot clone him because we could do with quite a few more like Mike. Where will the next ones come from?

    Maybe when he has had a little rest he will continue the good work as a freelance?

  10. Mike was quite simply the best environmental correspondent. Passionate, observant and eloquent. Butterfly Conservation gave him our top award for Promoting Lepidoptera conservation, which in itself shows the broad range of his interest. From birds, to butterflies to plants. He loved them all and was happy to share that love and enthusiasm. Mike, we will miss you, but most of all, so will wildlife. On behalf of all those creatures who you gave a voice, we salute you.

    Martin Warren
    CEO Butterfly Conservation

  11. Yes great journalist and writer.

    Not sure if you considered the image conveyed by writing that you have shared many a bottle of claret and champagne with the man.

    Just a thought

Comments are closed.