Adam Watson (scientist)

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Adam Watson
Adam Watson2.jpg
Dr Adam Watson on Glas Maol, Gleann Beag in 2009
Born (1930-04-14) 14 April 1930 (age 88)
Turriff, Scotland
Education University of Aberdeen
Occupation Biologist
Jenny Raitt (m. 1955)
Children 2

Adam Watson, Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology, Fellow of the Arctic Institute of North America, Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, Fellow of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, (born 14 April 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 have been internationally recognised. Dr Watson is widely acknowledged as Scotland's pre-eminent authority on the Cairngorms mountain range.

Early and personal life[edit]

Adam Watson was born on 14 April 1930 at Turriff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. In March 1955 he married Jenny Raitt in Aberdeen. Adam and Jenny have two children, Jenny and Adam Christopher.

Academic achievements[edit]

From an early age, Watson showed considerable academic prowess. He was Dux of Turriff Primary School (1942) and of Turriff Senior Secondary School (1948) in Latin, English, Higher Latin, English, French, Science, lower History and Mathematics.

At Aberdeen University, in 1952 Watson gained 1st class honours in Pure Science (Zoology) and also won the MacGillivray Prize, Department of Natural History. In 1956, he got a PhD for his thesis on the "Annual Cycle of Rock Ptarmigan", a bird that has fascinated Watson all of his adult life. In 1967, he added a 2nd Doctorate (DSc) 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.[1] 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."[2] (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."[3]
  • "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."[4]

Fellowships, honours and awards[edit]

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]

  • 1972 Chief expert witness for the Crown in the Cairngorm Plateau 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 nine Environmental Statements on proposed ski developments at Lecht (3), Cairn Gorm (2), Glenshee (2) and Glencoe (2).

Recent activity[edit]

Dr Adam Watson and colleague carrying out annual snow-patch survey from 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 in May 2009 led a walk at Glenshee[7] 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.[8]

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]

The Place Names of Upper Deeside[edit]

The origins of this place name study - of which this book is merely the published output - date to before 1971 when Adam Watson and John Duff (the former police constable in Braemar) began working together to collect Gaelic place names in upper Deeside.[9]


  • 1963. Mountain hares. Sunday Times Publications, London. (AW & R. Hewson)
  • 1970. Animal populations in relation to their food resources (Editor). Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford and Edinburgh.
  • 1970. Adam Watson & Gordon R Miller, Grouse Management (Game Conservancy, Fordingbridge, and 1976 new edition)
  • 1974. Desmond Nethersole-Thompson & Adam Watson, The Cairngorms: their Natural History and Scenery (Collins, London, 1981 new edition Melven Press, Perth)
  • 1975. Adam Watson, The Cairngorms, Scottish Mountaineering Club District Guide (also 1992 and later editions)
  • 1982. Robert Moss, Adam Watson & John G. Ollason, Animal Population Dynamics (Chapman & Hall, London)
  • 1982. Kai Curry-Lindahl, Adam Watson & R, Drennan Watson, The Future of the Cairngorms (North East Mountain Trust, Aberdeen)
  • 1984. Adam Watson & Elizabeth Allan, The Place Names of Upper Deeside (Aberdeen University Press)
  • 1998. Stuart Rae & Adam Watson, The Cairngorms of Scotland (Eagle Crag, Aberdeen)
  • 2008. Adam Watson & Robert Moss, Grouse. HarperCollins, Collins New Naturalist Library No 107, hardback and paperback
  • 2010. Cool Britannia: snowier times in 1580–1930 than since. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe (by AW & I. Cameron)
  • 2011. It's a fine day for the hill. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2011. A zoologist on Baffin Island, 1953. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2011. Vehicle hill tracks in northern Scotland. The North East Mountain Trust, Aberdeen, published imprint Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2011. A snow book, northern Scotland: based on the author's field observations in 1938–2011. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2012. Some days from a hill diary: Scotland, Iceland, Norway, 1943–50. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2012. Human impacts on the northern Cairngorms: A. Watson's scientific evidence for the 1981
  • Lurcher’s Gully Public Inquiry into proposed Cairn Gorm ski developments, and associated papers on people and wildlife. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2012. Birds in north-east Scotland then and now: field observations mainly in the 1940s and comparison with recent records. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe (by AW & Ian Francis)
  • 2013. Place names in much of north-east Scotland. Hill, glen, lowland, coast, sea, folk. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2013. Points, sets and man. Pointers and setters, stars of research on grouse, ptarmigan and other game. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2013. Hill birds in north-east Highlands. Field observations over decades – ptarmigan, red grouse, golden plover, dotterel, bird counts. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2013. Mammals in north-east Highlands – red deer, mountain hares, others. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2014. More days from a hill diary: Scotland, Norway, Newfoundland, 1951–80. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2014. Plants in north-east Highlands - timing of blaeberry growth, tree regeneration, land use, plant orientation. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe
  • 2015. Place name discoveries on Upper Deeside and the far Highlands. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe (by AW & Ian Murray)
  • 2016. Essays on lone trips, mountain-craft and other hill topics. Paragon Publishing, Rothersthorpe


  1. ^ "{title}". Archived from the original on 6 March 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2009.
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 January 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2009.
  3. ^ Charlie English. "Saturday interview: Adam Watson has been studying snow since the age of seven | Science". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-06-22.
  4. ^ "Dr. Adam Watson has been named an honored member in services by Princeton Premier. - Princeton Premier". 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2016-06-22.
  5. ^ Fourth doctorate for north-east scientist and mountaineer, Blair Dingwall, Press & Journal, 8 July 2014.
  6. ^ "Nine Scottish snow patches survive until winter 2007/2008 - Watson - 2008 - Weather - Wiley Online Library". Weather. 63: 138–140. 2008-04-29. doi:10.1002/wea.226. Retrieved 2016-06-22.
  7. ^ "Glenshee // Saturday 30th May 2009 // Winterhighland". Retrieved 2016-06-22.
  8. ^ "{title}". Archived from the original on 6 March 2009. Retrieved 13 June 2009.
  9. ^ Dorward, Joe. The Place Names of Upper Deeside - Episode 1. YouTube. Retrieved 30 August 2017.

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