FORMER Guardian and Oxford Mail reporter Walter Schwarz was one of the first British journalists to take environmentalism seriously.

He has died aged 88 at his home in Abberton, near Colchester in Essex.

When a 13-year-old pupil at Manchester grammar school, Walter Schwarz wrote in an essay that he wanted “a life of travel, excitement, freedom: in short a journalist”.

In 31 years on the Guardian he was the paper’s correspondent successively in Nigeria, Israel, India, France and Germany before writing for it on religion.

Among the stories he covered was a Palestinian terrorist organisation’s hijacking of an airline at Lod airport, Tel Aviv, in May 1972 – he listened in directly to the hijackers’ negotiations with the Israeli government after accidentally hitting the right airwave on his car radio.

Covering the start of the Nigerian civil war for the Guardian in 1967 he was arrested by Biafran troops and held in a condemned cell at Enugu prison with convicted murderers, uncertain of his future for nearly a fortnight before being released.

Born in Vienna, Walter was one of three children of Louise (nee Fischbein) and Theodore Schwarz. His father’s family owned a department store in Innsbruck but, observing the rise of Adolf Hitler with alarm, he moved the family, first to London and then Manchester, when Walter was seven.

After gaining a history degree at The Queen’s College at Oxford University in 1951, Mr Schwarz completed his national service with the Manchester Regiment, in what is now Malaysia. On one of his first patrols as a second lieutenant, preparing an ambush for potential bandits in a rubber plantation, he accidentally opened fire on his own men, luckily without casualties.

Having made his first contribution to the Guardian while in Malaya, in 1953 Mr Schwarz began training to become a foreign correspondent, briefly on the Oxford Mail, where he was sent to cover football matches, before moving to the Evening Standard’s gossip column.

After he and Dorothy Morgan married in 1956, they set off to Israel to cover the new country and later worked for André Deutsch, who set up a publishing venture in Nigeria. In 1962 he dispatched the Schwarzes to Lagos to run it. From 1964 to 1967 the writer was the Guardian’s correspondent there, and on his return to London worked as a leader writer. He was later the Guardian’s man in Paris and retired in 1995. Mr Schwarz, who died on August 25, is survived by Dorothy and four of the couple’s six children, daughters Habie and Tanya, and sons Ben and Zac.