Adam Watson (scientist)

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Dr Adam Watson on Glas Maol, Gleann Beag - 1 July 2009. Photograph by Allan Cameron

Adam Watson FIBiol, FArcticINorthAmerica, FRSE, FCEH, FRMetSoc, (born April 14, 1930), is a Scottish biologist, ecologist and mountaineer. He is one of the most recognisable scientific figures in Scotland due to his many appearances on TV and radio. His vast academic output and contributions to the understanding of the flora and fauna in Scotland and elsewhere has been internationally recognised (see Honours Awards). Dubbed "Mr Cairngorms",[1] Dr Watson is widely acknowledged as Scotland's pre-eminent authority on this mountain range, and has written extensively about them.

Early life and academic achievements[edit]

Watson was born and educated in Turriff, Aberdeenshire. After showing considerable academic prowess at Turriff Senior Secondary School, where he attained the Dux award, Watson gained a 1st class honours in Pure Science (Zoology) at the University of Aberdeen. In the same year (1952), he won the MacGillivray Prize, Department of Natural History at Aberdeen University. He gained his PhD in 1956, again at Aberdeen University, for his thesis on the “Annual Cycle of Rock Ptarmigan”, a bird that has fascinated Watson all of his adult life. A second doctorate (DSc) was secured in 1967 for scientific papers on populations and behaviour of northern animals.

Watson was inspired by the writings of Seton Gordon, whose book The Cairngorm Hills of Scotland Watson came across as a child, and was 'transformed' by its content.[2] This sparked his lifelong interest in the Cairngorms, and Watson remained in contact with Gordon until his death in 1977.

Published output and editorships[edit]

The body of work by Dr Watson over 58 years (1944–2012) includes: 23 books, 287 peer-reviewed scientific papers and 178 technical reports, 40 book reviews, and many articles in newspapers and magazines.


  • 1956-64 Editor, The Scottish Naturalist
  • 1969 Editorial Board, Journal of Animal Ecology
  • 1970 Editor, British Ecological Society’s 10th Symposium Volume, Animal Populations in relation to their Food Resources (Blackwell Scientific Publications)
  • 1981-89 Editorial Board, Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment


  • "He brought to the (John Muir) Trust immense expertise and authority from a lifetime's scientific work on the ecology of the Cairngorms, an unparalleled field knowledge of the hills and intense personal commitment to their special qualities."[3] (page 11, PDF document)
  • "Few people know more about snow in Britain than Watson, who has spent almost six decades ski-mountaineering and walking around the Cairngorms, studying snow and the birds and mammals that live in it."[4]
  • "Dr. Watson is one of the most respected authorities within his field. He has written fifteen books on landscape and wildlife, including the definitive mountaineering guide The Cairngorms, which has been in-print since the 1960s."[5]

Honours and awards[edit]

In addition to Watson’s academic achievements, he has a wealth of honours and awards:

Dr Watson is also an Emeritus member of the Ecological Society of America, and has been a member of the Scottish Mountaineering Club since 1954

Notable duties[edit]

In addition to Dr Watson's distinguished career, some of the duties he has had include:

  • 1972 Chief expert witness for the Crown in the Cairn Gorm Disaster Fatal Accident Inquiry in February at Banff (five children from Ainslie Park High School, Edinburgh, and an instructor died in the snow at Feith Buidhe on the plateau in November 1971)
  • 1981 Main scientific witness commissioned by the Nature Conservancy Council at the Lurcher’s Gully Public Inquiry, on behalf of the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology
  • 1984 One of the first Trustees of the John Muir Trust, Trustee 1984-97, Honorary Adviser 1997-2003
  • 1990-92 Commissioner, Countryside Commission for Scotland
  • 1995-97 Board Member, Cairngorms Partnership
  • Independent monitoring scientist for downhill ski areas at the Lecht (1984 to date), Glenshee (1986 to date), Cairn Gorm (1990–99), Glencoe (1996), and gave technical advice to Nevis Range in November 1995. Author, Environmental Baseline Study for Glenshee Ski Centre 1987, Environmental Baseline Study of Damaged Ground at Cairngorm Estate 1994, and 9 Environmental Statements on proposed ski developments at Lecht (3), Cairn Gorm (2), Glenshee (2), Glencoe (2)

Recent activity[edit]

Dr Adam Watson and colleague carrying out annual snow-patch survey from Glas Maol, Glas Maol, Gleann Beag, July 2009. Photograph by Allan Cameron.

One of Dr Watson's first loves, snow, remains a study subject that he is highly active on, particularly the longevity of snow-patches on Scotland’s mountains,[6] and he recently (May 2009) led a walk at Glenshee where he showed the participants the long-lying snow-patches of the Cairngorms & Lochnagar and the effects of snow-lie on vegetation. His fascination for snow can be traced back 70 years.[7]

Watson has appeared twice with Bill Oddie, and acted as guide when the famous twitcher was in pursuit of Dotterel, Ptarmigan and Mountain Hare.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Watson was married in March 1955 to Jenny Raitt, and has one son (Adam) and one daughter (Jenny). He currently lives near Banchory, Aberdeenshire, by the banks of the River Dee.


External links[edit]