50 Years of Plant Pathology

N. V. Hardwick, Central Science Laboratory, Sand Hutton, York YO41 1LZ, UK


It is hard to realise that until the publication of Plant Pathology in 1952, Britain had no journal dedicated to plant pathology and, until 1981, plant pathologists had no UK learned society. The American Phytopathological Society first published its journal, Phytopathology, in 1911. Most UK papers on research related to plant pathology found their way to the Transactions of the British Mycological Society (first published in 1897) or the Annals of Applied Biology (first published in 1914). The early history of Plant Pathology is inextricably linked to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) and its advisory service the National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAAS) formed in 1946, later to become, in 1971, the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (ADAS). Some of the key dates have been recorded elsewhere (Hardwick, 1998).

A meeting of a joint sub-committee of NAAS plant pathologists and entomologists on publications, held on 7 January 1947, recommended that a new technical periodical be published by MAFF devoted to agricultural entomology and plant pathology. Present were: Dr W A R Dillon-Western, Mr W E H Hodgson, Mr S G Jary, Mr W C Moore, Mr L Ogilvie, Mr L N Staniland, Dr I Thomas and Dr J H Western. They recorded:

"The need for such a publication is great, and the subject, though very wide, is a self-contained one. As envisaged, such a 'Plant Pests and Diseases Reporter' or a 'Plant Health Gazette' would in no way conflict with scientific journals such as the 'Annals of Applied Biology'. Among the subjects that might be included in a periodical of this nature are:-

  1. Short but informative scientific articles on pests and diseases new to the country.
  2. The results of co-operative survey work (e.g. the special onion diseases surveys of 1943 and 1945).
  3. Preliminary results of field trials of considered value, yet not suitable for existing scientific journals (contributions of this nature find their way at present into Agriculture, Grower, Fruitgrower, Gardeners' Chronicle etc.)
  4. Some of the most interesting and informative items on the prevalence of pests and diseases now included in the Monthly Summaries issued from Plant Pathology Laboratory.
  5. Information about the Ministry's Approval Scheme for Insecticides and Fungicides, with lists of approved products.
  6. Explanatory notes on D.I.P. Acts and Orders, and Health Certification Schemes.
  7. Digests of English and foreign literature on topical subjects."

On 13 February 1948, the first meeting of the NAAS Conference of Advisory Entomologists and Plant Pathologists Joint Sub-Committee on Publications was held and W C Moore (Moore, 1969) was elected Chairman. At the meeting it was agreed that the Plant Pathology Laboratory at Harpenden ('Path Lab', now incorporated into the Central Science Laboratory at York) would complete a specimen number of the proposed journal from existing material. It should contain 30-40 pages and include illustrations. It was thought that such a publication would be issued quarterly. Members were asked to think of an appropriate name for the periodical. At its meeting on 19 December 1949 it was reported that the proposal for a technical journal had received support from people within the Ministry and that one of the occupants of the new posts at 'Path Lab' sanctioned by the Treasury could act as the technical editor of the journal.

In 1949, W C Moore became Director of the 'Path Lab' and in 1950 recruited E C Large from NAAS, who was then based at Cambridge, to promote the systematic collection of quantitative data and assessment keys for individual diseases. Large was formerly a colloid chemist who had developed a dry bentonite-copper-oxychloride fungicide for use either as a dust or spray. He had been appointed in 1941 as assistant to A Beaumont at Seale-Hayne Agricultural College in Devon to work on the control of potato late blight (Phytophthora infestans) (Colhoun, 1993). Moore's idea was for Large's unit to provide a technical service for the NAAS Disease Assessment Committee, previously run by the British Mycological Society (BMS). Moore also wished to capitalise on Large's writing abilities and he was to edit the proposed new journal. Large was, of course, by then famous for his work 'Advance of the Fungi', a book that was to influence many a budding biologist into a career in plant pathology (Large, 1940). Large's account of the potato blight epidemic that was to ravage Europe, and particularly Ireland, in the latter half of the 19th century still remains one of the most vivid.

On 24 February 1950, a meeting was held between 'Path Lab' and MAFF officials to consider the proposal for the journal with the suggested title 'Plant Health Record'. On 29 August 1950, Moore, assisted by Large, prepared a Memorandum concerning the content of the journal for submission to Establishments Branch of MAFF and Her Majesty's Stationery Office (HMSO) with a new proposed title of 'Crop Protection Record' in medium or Royal octavo size to be issued quarterly at first but later monthly or bimonthly if necessary. The proposed editorial arrangements were that a senior scientist on the staff of 'Path Lab' should act as technical editor and the NAAS Conference of Advisory Entomologists and Plant Pathologists would act as a standing technical editorial board to referee manuscripts (refereeing remained informal and 'in-house' until the mid-1960s when referees were selected, according to their expertise, from organisations across the UK). It was proposed that an initial run of 1000 copies be made with free circulation to Government specialist officers in entomology and plant pathology and to individuals or departments at research stations and universities who made a contribution to the MAFF intelligence service on pests and diseases. Also it would be sent to divisions in departments of agriculture within the Commonwealth and to foreign official government plant protection institutes. It was proposed that it would be offered as a saleable publication to libraries and individuals in the UK and abroad. Moore, on 28 September 1950, recorded in a letter that the Civil Service Commission had assigned to 'Path Lab' a 'suitable man for the entomological side of the assessment work' who would act as editor of the entomological papers. He was A H Strickland who was then on leave from the 'Gold Coast' (Ghana).

In a hand written memo of 3 February 1951, E C Large reported that Establishments had turned down the Technical Journal without consulting HMSO or Treasury. The Treasury must sanction all new publications and Establishments considered that there was no case for the proposal to be forwarded to the Treasury. Moore wrote to Establishments on 13 February 1951 making a strong case for its publication. There followed a period of lengthy correspondence between 'Path Lab' and officials at MAFF, Treasury and HMSO concerning details of content and proposed distribution, culminating in a letter from the Treasury in August 1951 conveying agreement to its publication. They indicated that the journal should pay its way and the number of free issues should be kept to a minimum.

On 28 August, Dr Joan Moore (Anonymous, 1986), in her capacity as Secretary of the Publications Sub-Committee, wrote to its members indicating that staff at 'Path Lab' had considered the tentative title of 'Crop Protection Record' and no one was content; they therefore proposed the title 'Plant Pathology'. Decisions were taken on 3 September 1951 that the main title be 'Plant Pathology' with a sub-title 'A periodical for Plant Diseases and Pests' and that the size should be Royal octavo, with up to 40 pages and published quarterly in March, June, September and December. From the outset a double page of art paper bearing black and white photographs was present in the centre of each issue. The first issue rolled off the presses on 27 March 1952 with 36 pages at the price of four shillings (20p) per issue. Demand for the first volume was such that the print run was increased from 1000 to 1250 for issues in Volume 2.

Moore (1952) set out the purpose of Plant Pathology in his introduction to the first issue:

'THE SCIENCE OF PLANT PATHOLOGY is concerned with all pathological conditions in plants and plant produce, whatever causal agent is involved. It therefore provides common ground for the mycologist, entomologist, virus worker, helminthologist, bacteriologist, nutrition or soil chemist, meteorologist, and plant physiologist, each specializing along his own lines, but collaborating closely with workers in cognate branches. The periodical PLANT PATHOLOGY, like the science from which it takes its name, will be wide in its scope. It will contain original contributions on plant diseases caused by fungi, bacteria, viruses and eelworms; on plant pests, including those of stored products; on damage by rodents and birds; and on nutritional and physiological disorders. It is intended primarily for the prompt publication of information on the incidence, distribution, recognition and control of plant diseases and pests in Britain. It will record survey work, including estimates of crop losses, and contain much matter of topical interest on preliminary experiments and their provisional interpretation, of forecasts, and on precautionary measures.'

And so Plant Pathology was produced relatively unchanged for 30 years under the ownership of MAFF as one of its scientific journals and published by HMSO. 

Next Page