Papers and correspondence of Alexander Stuart Watt, 1892-1985

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 12 Add. MS 8851
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      6 boxes

Scope and Content

The papers document over forty years of research in Breckland ecology. There are notebooks recording Watt's work in the Breckland from 1931 to the 1970s, and notes and drafts, almost entirely relating to Breckland, including material for Watt's article 'Rare species in Breckland: their management for survival', Journal of Applied Ecology, 1971. Watt's service on the Breckland Committee of the Nature Conservancy is documented as is his involvement with work carried out 1966-c 1970 by Mrs G. Crompton on collating the results of previous studies of Breckland. There are also notebooks recording early research on the regeneration of British woodlands and visits overseas including one to the heathland of north west Germany in 1931. There are photographs and maps mainly relating to the Breckland research but also including photographs taken by Watt on his 1931 visit to Germany.

Administrative / Biographical History

Watt was born in Aberdeenshire. Educated at local schools, he went to Aberdeen University, 1910-1913, and then registered with Cambridge University for research under A. G. Tansley. In 1915 Watt became Lecturer in Forest Botany and Forest Zoology at Aberdeen University but in March 1916 he joined the Royal Engineers. His army service ended early in 1918 when he was badly gassed, and he went back to Cambridge to complete his research before returning to his post at Aberdeen. He left Aberdeen in 1929, to take up a post at the Imperial Bureau of Entomology, Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, before a few months later accepting an invitation to become Gurney Lecturer in Forestry at Cambridge University. He was transferred to the Botany Department in 1933 as Lecturer in Forest Botany, a post he held until retirement in 1959. He continued active research into the 1970s. Watt's first research began at Cambridge on the failure of regeneration in British oak woods. At Aberdeen he continued his study of this phenomenon, looking at beech woods and yew woods. This research widened into an interest in the general ecology of woodlands. On his move back to Cambridge in 1929 Watt began research into the ecology of the Breckland area of north west Suffolk and south west Norfolk, studying the soil factors determining the composition of vegetation and later the effects of grazing by rabbits. Over an extended period from the 1930s to 1973 he made a detailed study of the changes affecting different types of grassland. In the course of this work Watt became interested in the behaviour of bracken and studied the stages by which it advanced into grassland. From this work he was to develop a general concept of 'dynamic stability' in the plant community, envisaging it as a patchwork of vegetation at different stages of a repetitive cycle of composition. He was elected FRS in 1957.


By section as follows: Notebooks, Notes and drafts, Nature Conservancy, Correspondence, Photographs, Maps. Index of correspondents.

Access Information

Access to holders of full Reader's Tickets of Cambridge University Library.

Other Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Alexander Stuart Watt (1892-1985) by T.E. Powell and P. Harper, NCUACS catalogue no. 38/6/92, 25 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1992 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists via Cambridge University Library.