British Society for Plant Pathology 25th Anniversary

A message from the first president - notes on the origin of the BSPP

by R K S Wood, BSPP President 1982

At the International Congress of Botany, Edinburgh, 1964, I met again W C Snyder (Berkeley, California, where I had been a Commonwealth Fund Fellow 1950-51), and J G Horsfall (New Haven, Connecticut, where I had been a Research Fellow 1956-57). Over a few drinks we agreed that plant pathology had been represented poorly at the Congress. Somewhat impetuously I proposed that we should have our own Congress. This was received with some enthusiasm by WCS and JGH and then by others, especially S D Garrett and P H Gregory. One thing led to another and, as they say, the rest is history, well recorded in the PAM, Vol 48, p 225-253.

Now I had been Secretary of the Association of Applied Biologists (AAB) for some years and on the Plant Diseases Committee (as Chairman, I believe) of the British Mycological Society (BMS). By 1964 I had recognised the anomaly that plant pathology was no more than a part of AAB and only a minor part of the BMS. Encouraged by the response to my idea of a new Congress I also proposed an independent society for plant pathology for the UK. This, too, was well received by a group of UK plant pathologists at Edinburgh, who then commissioned me to develop the proposal. The AAB and BMS soon learned about it and at once strongly resisted the formation of a new and independent society for plant pathology in the UK. They appointed a committee to recommend an alternative with me as Chairman. The outcome was a weak compromise, the Federation of British Plant Pathologists to be financed by subventions from the AAB and the BMS. I soon realised that I should not have accepted the Chairmanship and the recommendations of the Committee. I should have resisted the AAB and BMS and continued to fight, albeit forlornly, for an independent society.

Thereafter, I had little to do with the Federation. Instead I occupied myself with organising the First International Congress of Plant Pathology, 1968, at Imperial College, magnificently supported by Bryan Wheeler as Treasurer and (hedge fund manager manqu!), June Cheston, my secretary. And later as Founder President of the International Society for Plant Pathology, again superbly supported by the Founder Secretary, J G ten Honten, a leader of Plant Pathology in the Netherlands. I did not dwell too much on my failure in the UK. However, some years into the reign of the Federation I learned that a small group of younger plant pathologists were on the way to establishing an independent society. I found ways of assuring the group of my total support but I warned it not to associate in any way my name with their efforts. These were rewarded with success on a scale that I might have hoped for but with no chance of achieving. I contributed nothing to their success. Their diligence and that of many others who followed, has given us BSPP with its highest standard of professional science, a leading international journal, administrative efficiency and financial probity, and a high position among the best of the national societies for plant pathology. And there it will remain.

A final and reflective note. An independent UK society was conceived at Edinburgh in 1968. There was no birth. Thirty years later the seventh and one of the most successful of our International Congresses was held in Edinburgh, in 1998. It was superbly and felicitously organised by BSPP.