Profile of BSPP’s President for 1997
Nigel was educated at Imperial College, London, where he obtained an upper second-class degree in botany. During his final year he developed an interest in plant pathology and electron microscopy and stayed on to research for his PhD on the fine structure of Uromyces appendiculate in French bean. This was the first time ultrastructural studies by transmission and scanning electron microscopy of plant pathogens had been undertaken in the UK. Unusually for the time he had joint supervisors, Mr A D Greenwood, for the fine-structural work and Professor R K S Wood for the plant pathology.
Following University, his first job was as an extension plant pathologist with the Government of the Republic of Zambia. One of the first questions he was asked was why someone with a Ph.D. would wish to do extension plant pathology -a further indication that applied research is not accorded the value of pure research. He was first sent to Mt. Makalu Research Station, near Lusaka, before being posted to Kabwe Research Station in the Central Province of Zambia. His first task was to build his laboratory, and at one time was supervising two brick layers, three carpenters, a plumber, and an electrician. He apparently does a great line in septic tanks and soak-away! He spent three years in Zambia investigating and advising on diseases of tobacco, maize, and potatoes.
On returning to the UK in October 1973 he was fortunate to join the Agricultural Development and Advisory Service (now just called ADAS), the extension arm of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. His time in Africa had convinced him that being confined to the laboratory bench doing pure research was not for him. Contact with farmers was important – plant pathology with a human face, as he saw it. He spent two and a half years at the ADAS WyeSub-Centre in Kent gaining experience in the pathology of cereals, hops, top and soft fruit, tobacco, vegetables, and grass. In 1976, he was transferred to Shardlow Hall in Derbyshire, which covered the East Midlands, where he spent five years under the influence of Dr I F Storey, who instilled in him the importance of weather on disease.
I first had the opportunity to work alongside Nigel in 1980 when he transferred to ADAS Leeds as deputy to the Regional Plant Pathologist, Mr J E E Jenkins, Chairman of the Cereal Pathology Group. It was during his time at Leeds that Nigel developed an interest in diseases of oilseed rape and potatoes, writing a series of invaluable disease compendia on these crops and on pulses for use by ADAS advisors. These Compendia can still be found in regular use by many ADAS (and ex-ADAS!) advisors.
Nigel continued to take an active interest in the weather whilst based in Yorkshire and, indeed, maintained daily records from his house in Bramhope, North Leeds. In true British style, it became a favourite topic of conversation in the department. In the winter months John Jenkins could occasionally be heard declaring how sunny it was when he left home from Collingham in the Vale of York. He always found it hard to accept Nigel’s claim that he had had to fight through deep snow in Bramhope to get into the office in the morning. Nigel, always quick to defend himself, would pull out his “little black book “and proceed to advise us all the latest precipitation data in Bramhope to prove it! It is an interesting, if not unusual, fact that Nigel is the third in a line of BSPP Presidents (Martin Wolfe, 1983 and Tom Preece, 1987) who have at some time lived in the small village of Bramhope (pop. 3,500).
Whilst his busy career leaves little room for hobbies, he somehow finds time to participate in a range of pursuits. He is an active member at his local church, he walks regularly in the Yorkshire Dales and Moors and is a keen gardener. I remember that, whilst in Leeds, his lawn was the envy of the neighbourhood. His struggle for gardening perfection caused a few problems, however. One day his young son, Robert, took a liking for the slug pellets Nigel had liberally spread around the borders. A hasty trip to hospital soon sorted him out and apparently, according to his father, he has not suffered any long-term ill-effects as a result. About a month later a newly built fishpond got Nigel into even deeper water when Robert fell in and Nigel had to fish him out. I suspect, like most fathers, as his son has grown up Nigel has often-considered the wisdom of fishing him out!
Anyone who knows Nigel may be surprised to learn that he is a fan of model railways. At his home in Bramhope he had an entire bedroom devoted to a spectacular lay-out. The trains ran around the wall at waist height on a modified “dado” rail with a customised removable section behind the door. The “pièce de résistance” was how he had tackled the problem of the fitted wardrobes. Instead of going around, he went straight through, with tiny ornate brass hinged doors at either end of the tunnel!
1992 saw major changes to ADAS, a move to an Executive Agency of MAFF and demise of the discipline structure. Nigel became manager of the Crop Science Team, with specialists also in entomology, soil science and agronomy. In 1996,the R&D Team had to leave its base at Leeds in order to save costs on accommodation and was amalgamated with the Crops and Livestock Team at High Mowthorpe, the ADAS Livestock Research Centre near Malton on the Yorkshire Wolds. Later in 1996, an opportunity arose for him to join the Central Science Laboratory at its new facilities at Sand Hutton near York. He now leads the Crop Disease Research Team, more familiarly known to the older generation as the Disease Assessment Team, responsible for the national surveys of diseases of arable crops. The team also undertakes research on epidemiology, forecasting and control of diseases of crop plants.
Nigel is a founder member of the Society, was a member of Council in 1986and served as the Society’s Secretary for seven years from 1987-1993. He is also chairman of the ISPP Extension Committee and Secretary of the Organising Committee for the 7th International Congress of Plant Pathology which is to be held in Edinburgh in August 1998.
Nigel, always modest of his own ambitions and achievements, is quiet, unassuming, and yet extremely efficient; his many years acting as secretary to BSPP on top of his busy ADAS schedule is testimony of this. To be closer to CSL, he recently moved to a new house from Leeds to Malton, where he now lives with his wife, Alison, two sons, Iain and Robert, and their two West Highland White terriers, Tara and Dougal.
HRI, Stockbridge House