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Watt, Alexander Stuart, 1892-1985 (plant ecologist)



Alexander Stuart Watt was born in Aberdeenshire in 1892. Educated at local schools, he went on to Aberdeen University where he studied for the BSc (in Agriculture) and MA, graduating in 1913. He obtained a Carnegie Scholarship to study in Germany but his plans were frustrated by the outbreak of war. Instead he entered Cambridge University to study for a BA by research under A. G. Tansley, his subject being the failure of regeneration of British oakwoods. In 1915, after the statutory year in Cambridge, Watt returned to Aberdeen to take up the post of Lecturer in Forest Botany and Forest Zoology. In March 1916 he joined the Royal Engineers. His army service ended early in 1918 when he was badly gassed, an experience from which he never fully recovered - thereafter he had only one functional lung. Watt went back to Cambridge to complete the residence requirements for his BA, which he received in 1919, before returning to his post at Aberdeen. Having been assured there would be no further residence requirements for the newly introduced PhD degree, he then registered with Cambridge as a PhD student. Watt was awarded the degree in 1923. He left Aberdeen in 1929, to take up a post at the Imperial Bureau of Entomology, Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, before a few months later accepting an invitation to become Gurney Lecturer in Forestry at Cambridge University. He was transferred to the Botany Department in 1933 as Lecturer in Forest Botany, a post he held until retirement in 1959. He continued active research into the 1970s. In 1957 Watt was made a Fellow of the Royal Society and in 1960 an Honorary Fellow of the British Ecological Society. He died in 1985. Watt's first research began at Cambridge on the failure of regeneration in British oakwoods. He received the Cambridge BA for this work and then went on to study the same phenomenon in beechwoods and yew woods at Aberdeen. This research widened into interest in the general ecology of woodlands. On his move back to Cambridge in 1929 Watt began research into the ecology of the Breckland area of north west Suffolk and south west Norfolk studying the soil factors determining the composition of vegetation and later the effects of grazing by rabbits. Over an extended period from the 1930s to 1973 he made detailed study of the changes affecting different types of grassland. In the course of this work Watt became interested in the behaviour of bracken and studied the stages by which it advanced into grassland. From this work he was to develop a general concept of 'dynamic stability' in the plant community, envisaging it as a patchwork of vegetation at different stages of a repetitive cycle of composition.

Found in 3 Collections and/or Records:


Addition to Alexander Stuart Watt: Notebooks and Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.10431
Content Description Three notebooks containing bibliographical notes on ecology from publications primarily in English and German language, first half of twentieth century. Two photocopies (one black and white and one colour) of a painting titled the Naturalists by L.J. Watson, depicting A.S. Watt. A.G. Tansley, C. Diver and E.B. Ford based on a tour of the Suffolk Heaths with the artist in 1949. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition at Burlington House in 1956 and purchased by the Nature...
Dates: 1949 - 1990

Alexander Stuart Watt: Notebooks and Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Add.8851
Scope and Contents

The collection is comprised of Watt's botany notebooks, notes and drafts (mainly related to Breckland), Watt's work in nature conservancy (mainly in Breckland), a very small selection of correspondence with an index of correspondents, a section of Watt's photographs (again, primarily of Breckland), and a number of Watt's Breckland maps.

Dates: 1915-1980 (Circa)
Conditions Governing Access: Unless restrictions apply, the collection is open for consultation by researchers using the Manuscripts Reading Room at Cambridge University Library. For further details on conditions governing access please contact Information about opening hours and obtaining a Cambridge University Library reader's ticket is available from the Library's website (

Arthur Tansley: Papers

Reference Code: GBR/0012/MS Tansley
Scope and Contents The collection is comprised of biographical materials (mainly about or rembrances of Tansley), notes and notebooks used by Tansley for field notes, manuscripts and notes for Tansley's book and lectures and psychology, correspondence and other materials relate to publications, material related to lectures and broadcasts (the latter of which Tansley may not have been involved in), documentation of Tansley's involvement in various Societies and Organisations (he had key roles in several),...
Dates: 1854-2008
Conditions Governing Access: Some items are restricted at the discretion of the Keeper of Manuscripts.

Additional filters:

Botany 1
Ecology 1
Psychology 1
Science 1