Born in Turriff, Aberdeenshire, Dr Adam Watson was unique, and in many ways defined a special era of field natural history. A polymath, he was a master of many things – first class scientist, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, accomplished ski mountaineer, expert on Gaelic place names and the north-east’s history, geography and weather. He was arguably the most knowledgeable Scottish naturalist and ornithologist of the last century. The international authority on the Cairngorms, and on golden eagles (his is the longest study in Europe), ptarmigan, red grouse, dotterels, snow buntings, waders, corn buntings and mountain hares, Adam was closely involved in long-term and detailed studies of all these species and more.

His scientific output was prolific through a long lifetime of work associated with the former Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (now Centre for Ecology and Hydrology), and in his later years he published many books which captured his lifetime’s experience in subjects as diverse as Scotland’s mammals, Scottish mountain snow patches, hill walking and climbing, expeditions to the Arctic and using trained dogs for biological research. A winner of numerous accolades, including the RSPB President’s Award, Adam was a staunch conservationist, fiercely criticising what he saw as bad land management in Scotland. He worked tirelessly against raptor persecution and led the establishment of Scotland’s first Raptor Study Group, in the north-east. He gave freely of his expertise to those supporting the conservation of birds of prey and other species and vulnerable habitats, and was always someone that RSPB staff could ask for context and background when help was needed. 

In recent years, we have been proud to work with Adam to assist him in publishing his long-term studies of corn buntings, and over 70 years of surveys of mountain hares, and these papers have contributed immensely to improving the conservation prospects of both these species. His wide-ranging expertise and penetrating thinking is impossible to replace, and we feel his loss deeply as a friend, collaborator and wise critic.


Ian Francis, Hywel Maggs, Allan Perkins & Jeremy Wilson