Media Release: Top Scottish honours for ‘Mr Cairngorms’, Dr Adam Watson

2007.04 at Brathens, photo Pete Moore

TODAY (Thursday 9 February), organisers of The Fort William Mountain Festival announced that Dr Adam Watson, biologist, ecologist, mountaineer, author and defender of the environment, is the fifth recipient of the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture.

This prestigious annual award recognizes and celebrates the achievements and accomplishments of one inspiring individual and their outstanding contributions to Scotland’s mountains, encompassing sport, theatre, art, photography, film and literature.

It was set up in 2008 by the Highland Mountain Culture Association Ltd, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, and is sponsored by Rio Tinto Alcan through the Scottish Community Foundation.

Previous winners include: Iain Sykes (2011), Jimmy Marshall (2010), Richard Else (2009) and Dr. Hamish McInnes (2008).

Mike Pescod, chair of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, said: “Few people, if anyone, can have a better understanding and knowledge of the Scottish mountains than Dr Adam Watson.

“From the plants and animals that live in them through to our impact and legacy on the mountains, Dr Adam Watson has studied it all and helped us to know our mountains in far greater detail and depth. Dr Adam Watson is a great ambassador for mountain culture.”

Begins a spokesperson: “Dr Adam Watson, from Aberdeenshire, has spent his life in scientific study of Scotland’s Cairngorm mountains; and in celebrating and defending them.

“Dubbed ‘Mr Cairngorms’, Dr. Watson is widely acknowledged as Scotland’s pre-eminent authority on this mountain range, and has written extensively about the area.

“His unceasing curiosity and thirst for understanding have led him to contribute an astonishing amount to the understanding of mountain landscapes and ecology.

“It’s said that few people know more about snow and the animals that inhabit it than Dr Watson.

“His vast academic output and contributions to the understanding of the flora and fauna in Scotland and elsewhere has been internationally-recognised in many honours, including the second-ever John Muir Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

“Dr Adam Watson has combined a lifetime’s wide-ranging scientific study in the Cairngorms with a passionate devotion to the hills, their wildlife and their people. He is also a natural communicator with an infectious enthusiasm for the sciences.

“His writings over the last 58 years include 23 books and many hundreds of scientific and other publications. A former JMT Trustee and Adviser, he also served on the Countryside Commission for Scotland and the Cairngorms Partnership, but has always remained staunchly independent in campaigning for the conservation of the Cairngorms, to him ‘the most wonderful place on earth’.”

Although retired, Dr Watson has continued to follow his many interests – publishing on the subjects of mountain birds, snow and the place names of Deeside.

See below in Editor’s Notes for further information on The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture and on Dr Adam Watson and his achievements.

Dr Watson’s Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture will be made on Saturday 18 February at the Nevis Centre, Fort William, as part of the Fort William Mountain Festival programme.

It will be preceded by the showing of a short film that includes still photographic highlights of his lifetime achievements and testimonials from friends and admirers.

A spokesperson from Rio Tinto Alcan said: “We are very proud to sponsor the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture through the Scottish Community Foundation. The ethos of this award fits well with Rio Tinto Alcan’s business culture and our drive for sustainable operations within this spectacular mountain environment.”

For full details of the Fort William Mountain Festival programme and to book tickets go to –


Notes to editors:

Further Information on Dr Adam Watson

Watson was born and educated in Turriff, Aberdeenshire and gained a 1st class honours in Pure Science (Zoology) at the University of Aberdeen. In the same year (1952), he won the MacGillivray Prize, Department of Natural History at Aberdeen University. He gained his PhD in 1956, again at Aberdeen University, for his thesis on the ‘Annual Cycle of Rock Ptarmigan’, a bird that has fascinated Watson all of his adult life. A second doctorate (DSc) was secured in 1967 for scientific papers on populations and behaviour of northern animals.

While a student, he used the first part of the summer vacations to climb in the far north and the second part to work as a deer-stalking gillie in the Cairngorms. He is also one of the pioneers of ski-mountaineering. As a mountaineer and ski-mountaineer since boyhood, he experienced Scotland, Iceland, mainland Canada and Baffin Island on foot and ski, and climbed in Norway, Swedish Lapland, Newfoundland, Finland, Switzerland, Italy, Vancouver Island and Alaska.

In 1954, he seconded Tom Patey when they climbed most of the rock routes in the Cairngorms during checks for the Scottish Mountaineering Club’s first climbers’ guide there. Later in 1954 he became a member of the SMC and since 1968 author of the Club’s District Guide to the Cairngorms.

In 1971 he was chief expert witness to the Crown in the Cairngorm Disaster Fatal Accident Inquiry. For many years independent scientific monitor at the three ski areas in the Cairngorms, he has also given technical advice at Scotland’s other two ski areas.

His main professional research was on the population biology, behaviour, habitats and environment of northern birds and mammals, and he contributed hundreds of scientific publications on these and other topics.

In recognition of this, during 1971 he was promoted to Senior Principal Scientific Officer for Special Merit in Research.

The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture

The idea for the award has been modelled on ‘The Summit of Excellence Award’ introduced at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 1987 and awarded to an individual who has made a significant contribution to mountain life in the Canadian Rockies.

In rewarding the best of the best contributors to mountain culture nominees are required to fill at least two of the following four criteria:

* Has promoted Mountain Culture over a sustained period of time and not less than five years. This promotion can take the form of outdoor enthusiast / writer / rescuer / artist / photographer / musician or any combination of the above

* Has encouraged and/or educated others to engage and indulge in Mountain Culture in physical / artistic or musical methods

* Is or has been inspired by Mountain Culture and support it in all its various forms

* Has ‘achieved’ within their own field of Mountain Culture & Excellence

Mike Pescod, chair of the Highland Mountain Culture Association, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival, said: “To some people, like Dr Adam Watson, the draw of the mountains is so strong that they devote their entire life to them and make a massive contribution to the culture surrounding them in doing so.

“Recognition of their talent and commitment is rarely sought or given and this award is one opportunity to do so. We feel that this award not only celebrates their achievements and contributions but also represents the recognition of their peers.

“By awarding one exceptional individual every year we are creating a list of ambassadors who represent the best in Mountain Culture in Scotland and beyond.

“We believe that the continuing success of the Fort William Mountain Festival, together with an increase in its significance and importance by the annual presentation of this award, will also be reflected in economic and cultural benefits to the people of Scotland, particularly those that are resident in mountain or rural communities.”

The prestigious Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture has its integrity ensured by a further set of criteria. Potential recipients should:

* Have inspired others in their particular field and beyond within the scope of Scottish Mountain Culture

* Have influenced at a national/international level.

The Fort William Mountain Festival, presented by The Outdoor Capital of the UK, runs from Wed 15th – Sun 19th February 2012 –

Festival information:

Tel: E:

Book tickets:

Online – .
Ticket office – Nevis Centre, An Aird, Fort William
Phone – 01397 700 707
Concessions for under-16’s only.

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Contact: Paddy Cuthbert
Phone: 07968699636