Mick Carroll: obituary

Mick CarrollWe are sad to hear of the passing of Mick Carroll.

Anyone involved with bird of prey protection in northern England in the last few decades would have known, or known of, Mick Carroll. For those who didn’t know him personally, you missed a treat, but you’ll know of his work, without knowing it was his work, if you’ve ever heard anything about the fight against raptor persecution in the English uplands.

The following obituary has been written by his friends and colleagues in the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF).

MICK CARROLL: 26 August 1947 – 21 October 2015

Mick was born in Lancashire in 1947. He was adopted by John and Edith Carroll when he was six months old and spent his formative years in Colne where he went to the local primary school with his life-long friend, Clive Hartley.

Mick was introduced to the natural environment by his father when he was still a young boy. He was only 5 or 6 years old when they left their industrial home together and made their first trip to the nearby Bouldsworth Moor where he recalls seeing Ring Ouzel, Common Sand Piper and Short-eared Owls. Mick recalls, ‘I didn’t have bins in those days, everything was done by skeg o’t eye’. He would have to wait another six years before he got his first pair of 8 x 32 binoculars, which cost the princely sum of 6.10 shillings. That was a huge amount of money back then; half of the average weekly wage for a manual worker and the equivalent of £136 today. Not a bad gift for a 12 year old. With or without binoculars that first trip to Bouldsworth Moor awakened an all embracing interest in ornithology.

At 15 years of age Mick started work on a local hill farm and joined the Royal Air Force when he was 19. After completing his basic training he became a member of the RAF Regiment, as a gunner. He was initially posted to the RAF Depot at Catterick, North Yorkshire before serving in Bahrain and Cyprus. His next posting took him to Germany where he was involved in helicopter based mobile air operations with the British Army of The Rhine. Shortly after returning to the UK Mick was posted to British Honduras, now known as Belize before his last overseas posting took him to Northern Ireland. Whilst stationed there he suffered a back injury that would eventually force him out of military service at just 30 years of age.

Having left the military Mick moved to Pickering with his wife of 44 years, Helene, and returned to farming. He took an initial course at the agricultural college in Ponteland before moving to Durham to complete a course in farm management.

After qualifying from Durham his first farm job took him to Winteringham. Mick recalls, ‘That’s where I first came into contact with a murderous gamekeeper who shot out a Kestrel nest’. Mick found one of the young that had survived and took it home and cared for it. The bird was released back to the wild once it was fit to fly. Mick decided that if this behaviour towards birds of prey was the norm on the estate he would never be happy there and soon moved on. He spent the next few years farming in North Yorkshire before his old back injury forced him out of the industry. He took a job as Trees Officer with Scarborough Council monitoring Dutch elm disease. Six months later he moved on again.

His next job, with English Country Cottages, allowed him to travel the length and breadth of the North of England and that gave him the opportunity to intensify his passion for bird watching. Coincidentally at the end of the contract with English Country Cottages his military pension increased substantially thereby allowing him to become a full-time birder. He then took on a role at the Blacktoft Sands RSPB Reserve for 12 months and developed a special interest in birds of prey.

This expanded interest led him to monitoring raptors on the North York Moors, initially in the Dalby and Langdale Forests. He was subsequently invited to join the North York Moors Upland Bird [Merlin] Study Group with whom he was involved for many years. Mick had maintained his contact with the RAF Regiment and his love of the natural environment and his determination to protect that environment led to an invitation to join the RAF Fylingdales Conservation Group. Within this Group he was called upon to advise the contractors who were responsible for dismantling the ‘golf balls’. Prior to the structural changes taking place Mick and the team installed a nest box scheme on the base. He continued to provide advice on the environmental management of the site after the work had been completed.

In addition to his conservation commitments at RAF Fylingdales, Mick took on the roles of President of Scarborough Field Naturalists, Chairman of the Ryedale Naturalists, Regional Representative for the BTO, Executive Committee member of the Whitby Naturalists Club and member of the Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union.

When he was not fulfilling his duties with the various conservation groups, Mick and Helene traveled extensively birdwatching across the UK and wider afield including a trip to Israel to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary and more recently a trip to the Middle East birdwatching in the Dhofar region of Oman.

Mick first encountered Hen Harriers, by chance, on the north-western plain of Germany. At the time he was serving with the RAF and had just bought a local bird guide from the NAAFI. He went to check out the local bird of prey population when he saw his first Hen Harrier. That was the start of his obsession with the species which never left him. Back in the UK, years later, he joined the Natural England Hen Harrier Recovery Project as a volunteer working alongside Stephen Murphy.

Mick didn’t only confine his harrier commitment to Hen Harriers and when Montagu’s Harriers made a second attempt to breed in North Yorkshire he was at the forefront, managing the nest monitoring and protection scheme. Mick was on guard duty every day for two months. This extraordinary commitment put him in bed for the best part of a week but he considered the effort a small price to pay when two chicks fledged from the site.

Mick first attended NERF meetings as a member of the North York Moors Raptor Study Group. However; his greatest achievement within NERF was the formation of the South Ryedale and East Yorkshire Raptor Study Group, which added both a huge geographical expanse to the overall study area and an influx of colleagues dedicated to monitoring and protecting birds of prey.

Since joining NERF he has used his expertise assisting colleagues to organise NERF conferences and has represented NERF on the DEFRA- led Buzzard Stakeholder Group. He was always available to represent NERF and his expertise was regularly sought by journalists and broadcasters.

In a moment of reflection and with typical candour Mick said, “I am really proud to have been a part of NERF but we need to be more politically active if we are to protect our iconic birds of prey. Raptors are under continued and serious threats, particularly from the game shooting industry, which should have been confined to history long ago. NERF is the leading voluntary NGO speaking collectively for raptors and we must continue to work together to ensure that they have a safe future, free from persecution. We will only achieve that goal if we hold successive Governments to account. They have a ‘duty of care’ for our shared environment and they often fail in that duty. When Government departments fail birds of prey, NERF is there to work with like-minded NGOs to challenge decisions that will have a negative impact on raptors. Long may that continue.”

Memories of Mick:

“Michael loved birds and the people who are involved in their conservation. He was a dear friend and a valued Natural England volunteer who played an invaluable part in the study and protection of Hen Harriers. Our thoughts are with Helene and his family”. Stephen Murphy, Natural England Hen Harrier Recovery Team

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 Roos, RSPB.

‘Larger than life’ is a phrase often used when talking about someone, but rarely is it as apt as when describing Mick Carroll. Mick was large in life and large in the field of nature, his love of birds, of their variety and their diverse behaviour was his passion and brought him endless hours of enjoyment in the field and in his armchair.

Mick was a fighter and has been fighting for the rights of birds for many years, in particular the rights of Hen Harriers to nest and raise their young in the hills of northern England without persecution. This fight is not over but will be carried on sadly without Mick, a man who was truly larger than life. He leaves a great legacy of surveyors, researchers, campaigners and friends in his wake.

Mick came up against an even more pernicious opponent in cancer, a fight he lost but not without bringing his own style to the proceedings; he organised and attended his own wake, a wake with so many friends from the BTO, RSPB, HOT, NERF, Forestry Commission, Natural England, RAF, local Naturalist clubs and neighbours that the Hospice where it was held ran out of visitors badges! Mick Carroll truly was larger than life“. Graham Oliver, SPREYRSG.

The phone rings, the voice of the caller is gruff with a Yorkshire accent and he utters just two words “Now then!” It can only be one person in my world of friends and contacts: Mick Carroll.

I first encountered Mick at an AGM of the North York Moors Forest Bird Study Group, I was late getting to Pickering; I grabbed a pint and went upstairs to the meeting room. Just inside the door a voice said, “You’re late!” That was it; no more, no less, the Hon Sec. had spoken. I suppose that was about 15 years ago.

Mick joined the BTO in 1991 and became Regional Rep for Yorkshire [North East] in 2001. Since then our conversations have become longer that two words, much longer!

As RRs in Yorkshire we have had plenty to talk about and of course for me Mick’s mantra has always been: “We do things our way in Yorkshire, don’t we Mike?” and a slight variation “There’s only one way of doing things and that’s the Yorkshire way!”

However, Mick is a force to be reckoned with, he takes no prisoners as the saying goes and his no nonsense approach to bird protection is refreshing, especially regarding raptors. He has been a tremendous driving force in making the BTO Yorkshire Conference a bi-annual event and although his health has prevented him from being fully involved recently, I very much appreciate his skills as a speaker finder. He must have a good contact book!

Finally, I have an enduring memory of his reaction to a menu selection at a Regional Reps’ weekend away, Main Course: Lasagne, Risotto or Vegetation option. Mick: “Foreign Muck!” That was my friend, Mick“. Mike Brown, BTO Regional Representative for Yorkshire Central.

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 his 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 Downing, Calderdale Raptor Study Group, NERF.

9 thoughts on “Mick Carroll: obituary”

  1. He took me under his wing (!) to show me ‘the forest’, Arkengarthdale and the wonders of Teeside. I remember a visit to ‘the tower of babel’ at Salthome when, in response to the usual enquiries of where he’d travelled from, he just replied ‘the forest’ ! Will miss our meetings in the Swan at Pick. Hope he’ll continue to give the landowners, gamekeepers and time servers hell ‘on the other side’.

  2. As a retired member of the Raf Regiment I would like to say a great big thank you to the late Mick Carroll for the outstanding work he as done for the love of the birds and the country side. As we in the Raf Regiment say good bye to Mick but will never be forgotten R.I.P. Mick Carroll…see you at the Rv…PerArdua.

  3. a real genuine person with a great love of the countryside and its wildlife. Mick you will long be remembered, Rest in Peace my friend

  4. Mick is going to be greatly missed by those of us who knew him. He was as Steve’s obituary clearly conveys a great character and a doer, never a diplomat always straight to the point and for some disconcertingly honest. I know that I will miss him hugely but all of us must continue to work hard for an end to persecution, it is after all what we would have wanted us to do and how we can best remember a true friend.

    1. We will forever be indebted to Mick for his passionate work to preserve the wildlife and rugged beauty of the Moors around RAF Fylingdales. As a fierce conservationist, his sage advice will be sorely missed; as a friend of RAF Fylingdales, he will live on forever in our hearts.

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