George Dunnet, ecologist and academic; born, Caithness, April 19,

1928, died, Copenhagen, September 11, 1995

PROFESSOR George Dunnet leaves behind him a reputation as one of

Scotland's most distinguished ecologists, respected teachers, and

effective committee chairmen.

His friends remember him as a man with a great sense of humour, a

favourite dinner guest and a person who loved Scottish dancing and


Students who might have been intimidated by his mighty academic

reputation found him to be a warm, approachable teacher without a hint

of pomposity.

Born in Dunnet, Caithness, on April 19, in 1928, he married Margaret

Thomson in 1953 and is survived by a son and a daughter. A second

daughter predeceased him.

He was generally acknowledged to be a fine negotiator and committee

man, able to apply his deep understanding of ecology to practical and

policy issues. His most enduring achievement was the establishment of

Culterty, the field station of Aberdeen University's zoology department,

as a centre of postgraduate research and training in ecology.

The field station originated in 1957 when the university was given the

house and its extensive grounds set in the village of Newburgh.

In 1958, Professor Vero Wynne-Edwards appointed Dunnet, who had gained

first class honours in zoology at Aberdeen, followed by a doctorate on

the breeding of starlings in relation to their food supply, to take over

its development.

It was while working briefly at the Bureau of Animal Populations in

Oxford that he married Margaret ''Mom'' Thomson, a fellow Aberdeen

graduate. He then took up a five-year appointment with the Commonwealth

Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia.

On his return to an Aberdeen University lectureship based at Culterty,

he established research programmes on birds in the Ythan estuary and on

the fauna of the surrounding farmland.

In the 30 years that Professor Dunnet was responsible for the field

station, nearly 100 postgraduates, half of them from overseas, gained

higher degrees there and went on to play an important role in ecological

science in Britain and elsewhere.

While in Australia, Dunnet had worked principally on the ecology of

mammals, but on his return to Scotland he concentrated on the ecology of

birds. One of his most important projects was the study of fulmars on

the Orkney Island of Eynhallow, work which still continues and is

considered one of the most important studies on lifetime reproductive

success of a bird anywhere in the world.

In 1990, the British Ornithological Union presented Dunnet with the

Godman Salvin Medal, and in the same year, the Royal Society of

Edinburgh, of which he was a fellow for 20 years, awarded him the Neill


While still an undergraduate, Dunnet published his first paper on the

fleas of British mammals. He continued that work while in Australia and

was to lay the groundwork for research that eventually added more than

40 species and subspecies to the flea fauna of Australia.

Dunnet succeeded Wynne-Edwards as Regius Professor of Natural History

at Aberdeen in 1974 and later served as dean of science.

Ahead of his time in many areas of the practical application of

environmental knowledge, he became one of the first experts to advise

MPs that fish-farming had the potential to cause environmental problems.

He also established and chaired the Aberdeen University Environmental

Liaison Group which, in 1977, evolved into the Shetland Oil Terminal

Group, which acted as a go-between for the oil industry and


He was again called upon in 1986 to chair the Review Team on Badgers

and Bovine Tuberculosis and his recommendations are still followed


One of his greatest challenges was the chairmanship of the Salmon

Advisory Committee, set up to advise ministers on the conservation and

development of salmon fisheries, which he chaired from its inception in

1986 until his death.

He also sat on the Advisory Committee on Science of the Nature

Conservancy Council, which he chaired shortly before the NCC was

replaced by country agencies which in turn evolved into Scottish Natural

Heritage, an amalgam of the NCCS and the Countryside Commission for


The changes coincided with his partial retirement from university

work, and he became chairman of the NCCS Science, Research and

Development Board, and then became a member of the main board of SNH and

chairman of its research board.

Dunnet felt he had a special role to perform as the only scientist on

the main board of SNH, but to his great regret, felt obliged to resign

because he felt that the voice of science was not being given sufficient


At the time of his death -- September 11, 1995, while in Copenhagen --

he was retired but continued to advise colleagues on environmental

issues. He was in Denmark to chair an international panel of experts

examining the environmental impact of the proposed bridge between

Denmark and Sweden. He was also an enthusiastic participant in an

Overseas Development Agency project advising the Azerbaijan Government

on how to protect the Caspian Sea during the projected oil developments.