Papers of Professor Alexander S. Watt, relating to the Cambridge University Cairngorm Survey of 1938 and 1939

Scope and Content

This collection is comprised almost wholly of papers relating to the Cairngorm Ecological Surveys with which Dr Watt was involved in the period 1938 - 1939. It includes negatives, including glass plates, and prints, 1930s - 1940s; photographic journal of the expedition, 1938; notebooks containing data on Cairngorms, 1938 - 1939, 1946 and 1948; and related professional off-prints.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alexander Stuart Watt son of George Watt, farmer at Monquhitter, Turriff, was born in 1892, and graduated from the University of Aberdeen, MA and BSc (Agriculture), 1913. Having taken the unusual step of following the Arts and Agriculture courses concurrently, he was encouraged by W. Dawson of the Forestry Department, to remain at the University for a further year and follow a course in pure science, during which he specialised in ecology. In Oct 1914 he won a scholarship for Cambridge, to work under A.G. (later Sir Arthur) Tansley on the regeneration of oak, but returned to Aberdeen the following year, where he was appointed lecturer in Forest Botany and Forest Zoology. After war service in the Royal Engineers, 1916 - 1918, he returned to Cambridge for one term to complete his BA, before returning once more to Aberdeen, where he resumed his role as lecturer and completed work on his PhD, which was granted by Cambridge in 192?. In 1929 he joined the staff of the Imperial Bureau of Entomology at Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, and 5 months later accepted the post of Gurney Lecturer in Forestry at the University of Cambridge Department of Forestry. When the department closed in 1933, he was transferred to the School of Botany, where he was designated Lecturer in Forest Botany, and where he remained until his retirement in 1959.

Dr Watt's best known work is a series of papers on the ecology of Breckland, the raw data for which was compiled over a forty year period, and exemplifies his pioneering work on the importance of long term observation and recording of permanent plots. Many of his earlier papers were concerned with the ecology of Scottish woodlands, and he played a significant role in the Cambridge University Botanical Expeditions to the Cairngorm Mountains in 1938 and 1939, which resulted in the publication of four important papers. The work undertaken for these earlier papers stimulated research on Scottish vegetation and contributed to his reputation as one of the early pioneers of population biology of plants (Greig-Smith, A.S. Watt, F.R.S.: a biographical note, in The Plant Community as a Working Mechanism, ed. by E.I. Newman (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1982), pp 9 - 10). His contributions to the field of plant ecology were endorsed by his election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1957 and the award of the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society in 1975. He was an early member of the British Ecological Society, which he joined in 1919, and of which he was elected an honorary member in 1960. The Society marked his ninetieth birthday with the publication in his honour of The Plant Community as a Working Mechanism, ed. by E.I. Newman, British Ecological Society Special Publication, 1 (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1982).

For further biographical details see obituary in Journal of Ecology, 74 (1986), 297-300.


None observed - listing in progress

Conditions Governing Access

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Gifted to the University in Jun 1986 by Charles H. Gimingham, Professor of Botany in the University.

Other Finding Aids

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and from the copyright owner. Details of copyright ownership will be given on request, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

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Additional Information

This material is original