Adam Watson (scientist)
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", 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
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. This sparked his lifelong interest in the Cairngorms, and Watson remained in contact with Gordon until his death in 1977.
Published output and editorships
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." (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."
- "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."
Honours and awards
In addition to Watson’s academic achievements, he has a wealth of honours and awards:
- 1971 Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
- 1980 Fellow of the Institute of Biology
- 1980 Chartered Biologist of the Institute of Biology
- 1983 Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America
- 1995 DUniv, University of Stirling (Honorary)
- 2000 Emeritus Fellow of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
- 1969 Aug-Dec, Nuffield Fellowship to lecture at Canadian universities
- 1982 Honorary Life Member, Cairngorm Club
- 1986 Royal Society of Edinburgh Neill Prize for “outstanding contribution to Natural History and study of red grouse and environmental impact of developments” in mountains
- 1986 Distinguished Scholar at University of Virginia
- 1995 Oct, Medal of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- 1995 Dec, Witherby Lecturer, British Trust for Ornithology
- 1997 Honorary Life Member Worldwide Fund for Nature-UK “in recognition of..outstanding quality of work, and a lifetime of dedication to securing the future of the Cairngorms”, also Honorary Life Member of the Scottish Ornithologists Club
- 2003 Portrait for permanent display in National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
- 2004 Lifetime Achievement Award of the John Muir Trust, for conserving wild places
- 2006 Associate Fellow of Royal Meteorological Society
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)
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, 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.
- John Muir Trust
- Adam Watson, David Duncan, Iain Cameron, John Pottie. 2008. Nine Scottish snow patches survive until winter 2007/2008. Weather 63. 138-140
- Interview with Gordon Casely in Leopard Magazine.
- News of the lifetime achievement award given to Dr Watson by the John Muir trust.
- Highland Naturalists biography.
- National Galleries of Scotland portrait.
- Guardian article with Charlie English interviewing Dr Watson about snow.
- Radio 4's The Living World with Lionel Kelleway, where he and Dr Watson go in search of grouse.
- Current TV interview with Watson on Scotland's changing winter climate.
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