Born: April 25, 1946;

Died: August 8, 2021.

DAVID Nelson was a big man, in stature and in heart. and in ambition for the people and landscape around him. His passing at the age of 75 leaves a significant gap in the lives of his family and friends, but also in Scottish agriculture and the Mearns and Aberdeenshire communities.

He and his wife, Barbara, farmed initially on the Orkneys, arriving there in early 1974, having married on the third-last day of 1973.

It was some distance from their upbringing, but the post of farm manager and agricultural adviser fed the ambition for real, hands-on farming, before the exciting opportunity arose to partner with Dutch investors in a 2,000-acre farm at Kilmartin, Glenurquhart, near Inverness.

This was no ordinary farm. It was a pioneering agricultural/tourism business, with hillside chalets, and an outdoor swimming pool, sauna and large kitchens around a central entertainment barn.

While Barbara’s culinary skills were given free rein as visitors from every corner of the world enjoyed Highland hospitality, David’s ambition was similarly encouraged.

By day he developed the mixed arable and livestock farm with new crops and breeds; by night he became a popular host with games, songs and ceilidhs – and education in whisky – that brought the glen to magical life. His incredible energy and love and nurturing of good friendship made him a natural.

In 1985 he took the family east to Glensaugh Research Station near Laurencekirk, which would become the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute and now the world-renowned Hutton Institute, to return to innovative farming, the environment and agro-forestry.

He monitored the Chernobyl impact on Scottish land and livestock, and would become well-known for Shetland sheep and Blue Grey cattle.

Professor Jeff Maxwell, formerly of the Macaulay Institute, said: “David’s contribution to agriculture research and the conflict he managed between the needs of scientists and his desire to farm well was impressive. He was a professional agriculturist with abilities in terms of stock and land management of the highest standard.”

Nelson joined the BBC Scotland’s Agricultural and Rural Affairs Advisory Committee, and featured on Landward, whose producer and presenter Arthur Anderson, a friend of 45 years, recalled his passion and deep insight: “No fluffs or hesitation, David always made my job so much easier … he will be much missed by the farming fraternity.”

David Nelson was born in 1946 in Eccles, Manchester, to Gordon, an electrical engineer, and Joan (his middle name. Lockwood, came from a famous paternal line of barometer and clock-makers).

There were few ewes or heifers in sight as the toddler played on the streets. But as he grew through childhood with brother Stuart and sister Jill, the attraction of farming would become a calling. The resilience needed for working the land also became apparent early on.

Aged just 10, David contracted polio. He would spend four months in an isolation hospital, his parents taking it in turns to visit, but only able to wave to him from afar.

A vaccine was developed at that time and there is a sense now, during Covid times, of what he and his family endured. David recovered but the virus affected the muscle structures in his leg and he would always have a limp, which made his passion for sport a greater challenge.

The way that he lived life and maintained his passion, playing goalkeeper while at Newcastle University, enjoying cricket – with his son, Mike, his regular runner – and eagerly schooling his and many other children in the arts of kicking, passing and catching a rugby ball, made him a wonderful example for disabled people in times when disabilities were rarely discussed.

His passion for rugby was stoked by the legendary Rugby League chairman Tom Mitchell, when Dave worked at his Calva Farm near Workington. Agricultural degrees were then limited to those from farming backgrounds, and so a year on a Warwickshire farm and time spent at Workington brought vital hands-on experience that helped him helped through an agriculture and economics degree at University.

From then on, rugby, whether union or league, was never far from his thoughts, and it is fitting that he spent his final night on this earth watching the British and Irish Lions’ final Test in South Africa with his family.

The disappointment of defeat was nothing compared to the loss of the picture with three minutes remaining and the game evenly poised.

His love of sport never waned. A fine shot, he was a shooting referee at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh. A convincingly fervent Scotland supporter at Murrayfield (on the occasions they weren’t playing England) he was tickled when a Scotland coach approached him at a training session to enquire whether he was an RFU (Rugby Football Union) scout. David had chosen to wear an England top for a spot of devilment.

The long-term effects of polio and bad luck meant David was rarely shy of pain from his legs. He was run over by a tractor, injuring his strong leg, and then damaged a femoral artery in a fall. This led to amputation of the weaker leg and, ultimately, to his retirement, at just 55.

He remained a strong supporter of polio charities, notably the Rotary’s Polio Plus Campaign and Jaipur Limb project.

But David and his family were settled in Mearns by then and he threw himself into community life, and supported Barbara’s newfound career in education. His involvement was wide and varied, on such bodies as Mearns Academy board and Laurencekirk and District Rotary.

A man of strong integrity, a natural leader and orator, David was a strong advocate for local people, who frequently turned to him for guidance and mediation.

His was a life lived to its full, which shaped people and agriculture, and many more of us than he would ever have realised hold deep, warm gratitude for being involved in just a part of it.

David is survived by Barbara, children Michael and Clare, brother Stuart and sister Jill, and grandchildren Kirsty, Isla, Meghan, Issy, Harvey and Douglas.


David Ferguson