Adam Watson 1930-2019

Adam Watson. Photo: Ronofcam, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Adam Watson died on Wednesday. We have lost one of the grand old men of UK ecology and a towering figure in upland ecology.

From his doctoral thesis on the life cycle of the Ptarmigan through to his long-term monitoring of Mountain Hares, Adam Watson was a pre-eminent montane and upland ecologist with a great love for, and knowledge of, the mountains and wildlife of his local Cairngorms mountains and beyond.

Last year, his monitoring of Mountain Hares through seven decades showed (in a paper published with Prof Jeremy Wilson of RSPB) that this species had declined massively on grouse moors in comparison with nearby montane areas not managed for intensive grouse shooting (see here and here).

He was a rare scientific specimen – a scientist who knew a lot, cared a lot, and spoke out a lot.


6 Replies to “Adam Watson 1930-2019”

  1. I have some of his books which clearly show his unhappiness about how wildlife in the North East of Scotland was treated by the owners of estates and their employees, including Scottish Wildcat and mountain hares. Estates are still trying to eradicate animals often referred to as vermin, in order to protect animals which are often referred to as game, some of which are abused during their lives to ensure more game is available.
    He did not live to see a radical change in the way Scotland treats it’s wildlife. I hope some of us may yet live to see a radical change, increasing Scotland and it’s inhabitants prosperity as well as biodiversity.

  2. A while back a member of the Angus Glens Moorland Group referred to him as ‘a doddery old man’. These people really are contemptible. A sad loss, but what a real legacy left behind.

  3. When I first started a new job in conservation in Scotland in 1990ish he was described by my new colleagues as the “oldest Angry Young Man in Scotland” – in a good way.

    He curried no favours and gave the ‘conservation’ sector as hard a time as any other if he felt they/we weren’t doing the right thing or making a decent enough fist of the right thing.

    More like him needed.

  4. While ski-ing in Iceland, during a particularly snowy spring before the second world war, he came
    upon a wader exhibiting distraction behaviour, can’t remember if young were seen, it was a Knot, can
    you imagine that ?.
    Many in the game industry today, should remember the extensive studies of Red Grouse Adam and his team undertook going back fifty years or more, from which they have all benefited.

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