Macfadyen, Amyan (1920–2015), ecologist and university pro-vice chancellor, was born 11 December 1920 in the Weald of Kent, England, where his maternal family farmed at Meophan Bank, Tonbridge. Amyan was the eldest of three sons and three daughters born to Eric Macfadyen and his wife Violet (née Champneys), who were married in January 1929 in St Barnabas Church, Klang, Malaysia. Eric, a prominent plantation owner, was twice a member (1911–16, 1919–20) of the federal council of the Federated Malay States.
Raised among his mother’s family in Kent, Macfayden embraced nature from a young age. He attended (1933–9) Dauntsey’s School in Wiltshire, known for excellent scientific teaching. There he became fascinated by the dew ponds of the Wiltshire Downs, and the fauna they supported, especially water beetles. Macfayden was prominent in the school’s natural history society and instrumental in establishing a meteorological society there. In 1939 he matriculated at Balliol College, University of Oxford, where he studied zoology for two years. In 1941 Macfayden completed radio and radar training courses with the British army and in 1942 was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Radio Company of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He was promoted to lieutenant and served in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, rising to the rank of captain. Macfayden repaired tanks and worked on the development of radar and other research, acquiring a deep technical knowledge of electronics. He participated in the 1944 Normandy landings and served in Germany until 1945.
After the war he returned to Balliol, and in 1947 took both a first-class Bachelor of Arts (BA) and a Master of Arts (MA) degree in zoology. Macfadyen won the prestigious Christopher Welch scholarship for postgraduate study and joined the Bureau of Animal Population as a research officer; the Bureau was affiliated to the department of zoological field studies at Oxford. There Macfadyen researched small arthropods (insects, spiders, crustaceans) and soil invertebrates and specialised in their metabolism and population analysis. His 1948 paper, ‘The meaning of productivity in biological systems’, was an important contribution to the emerging field of production ecology. At the Bureau, which appointed him lecturer in 1949, Macfadyen sought to identify and measure the energy turnover mechanisms governing ecosystems. He drew on his wartime expertise to develop custom electrical and mechanical laboratory and field instruments to facilitate measurement and analysis. From 1950 he was a lecturer in zoology at Balliol. Macfadyen visited Jan Mayan, an island in the Arctic ocean, to catalogue the invertebrate fauna and published his research in 1953.
In 1956 Macfadyen was appointed a lecturer in zoology at University College Swansea and, with Wyn Knight-Jones, established the zoology department there. He founded and lead the Soil Ecology Research Group for which he designed and built custom apparatus to undertake measurement and analysis. Macfadyen was promoted to senior lecturer in 1961 and reader in 1963, the same year he was awarded a Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) degree by Oxford. In 1957 he published Animal ecology: aims and methods, a monograph that focused on the ecology of terrestrial and freshwater invertebrates. It presented ecology as a separate scientific discipline and posited a concept of ‘animal population’ that should be regarded as the basic unit of ecological study, evidenced by statistical analyses of energy flows within an ecosystem. Macfadyen significantly revised and expanded the second edition (1963), which became a popular undergraduate text. From 1965–7 he was a visiting professor in soil biology at the Jordbundsbiologisk Institute at Arhus University, Denmark.
In April 1967 Macfadyen’s career took him to Northern Ireland, when he was appointed to a newly established chair of biology at the New University of Ulster, Coleraine, alongside Palmer Newbould. As joint heads of the new school of biological and environmental studies they designed and established a modular biology undergraduate programme. These novel and innovative courses, popular and successful, encouraged interdisciplinary research across and beyond the traditionally dominant fields of zoology and botany. Theirs was one of the first university departments in Ireland or the UK to teach ecology or environmental science, providing a unified view of plant and animal ecology. Courses in human ecology were introduced and, over time, Macfadyen and Newbould did much to influence the scientific character of the university.
Macfadyen subsequently served as dean of science (1974–7) and then pro-vice chancellor (1977–80) of the university. Though a reluctant politician he was a shrewd administrator and warmly regarded by the academic body, no doubt helped by his cull of academic and management committees across the university, requiring almost all academic staff to attend no more than a dozen such meetings annually. He was president of the British Ecological Society (1970–71) and the International Association for Ecology (1970–75). In 1980 he was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy and chaired the Academy’s Praeger Committee for a time, successfully leading fundraising efforts to increase the capital of the Praeger fund, which disbursed small grants to support the field work of naturalists.
Macfayden was editor (1964–1992) of Advances in Ecological Research and a long-time advisory editor to Environmental Conservation, and frequently reviewed books for the Journal of Animal Ecology and the Irish Naturalists’ Journal. He wrote, with Kasimir Petrusewicz, Productivity of terrestrial animals (1970), arising from research undertaken for the International Biological Programme (1964–70), a large-scale UNESCO global scientific research study. With J. M. Anderson he edited The role of terrestrial and aquatic organisms in decomposition processes (1976).
Macfadyen regularly warned against the dangers of academic over-specialisation and was strong promoter (and practitioner) of interdisciplinary approaches. A truly original thinker, from the early 1970s Macfadyen was publicly urging more efficient generation and use of electrical power, and the reuse and recycling of manufactured goods. After 2000 he was an active member of Scientists for Global Responsibility.
While living and working in Oxford he married (in 1949) Ursula Hampton, daughter of F. A. Hampton, a Harley Street doctor who also lived in Oxford. They had three sons and a daughter together (Tim, Mathew, Peter and Sophie). Upon his wife’s death in July 1986, the same year he retired, Macfadyen embraced cooking as a hobby and improved his fine three-acre garden on the River Bann, near Coleraine. There Macfadyen grew abundant organic produce and frequently welcomed friends and avid horticulturists, always generous with advice and plant specimens; he was a keen promoter of the National (Open) Gardens Scheme in Northern Ireland. He also joined Friends of the Earth (FoE), and as their Bannside coordinator he campaigned against the outflow of effluent onto the beaches of the North Antrim coast and for the preservation of the rich biodiversity of the Garry Bog, Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. In 2005 FoE awarded him their ‘Earthmovers’ award in recognition of his outstanding contribution to grass roots campaigning. Even in retirement Macfadyen continued his research into soil invertebrates on expeditions to the Falklands Islands and Tanzania. He unsuccessfully stood for the Alliance Party in the 1993 Northern Ireland local elections. In 2006 he moved to Sheffield, England, to be near his daughter; horticultural groups were invited to depopulate his acclaimed garden. In Sheffield he took up cycling, volunteered for community projects, and continued to campaign on ecological issues. Amyan Macfayden died in Sheffield on 3 October 2015, and was buried in the South Yorkshire Woodland Burial Ground near Ulley; an oak tree was planted on his grave.