School of GeoSciences

School of GeoSciences


self I am a university visitor; currently a lecturer in environmental ecology at Scotland's Rural College (SRUC). Prior to December 2013 I was a teaching fellow in the School of GeoSciences and a tutor/lecturer in the School of Biological Science. My background is in plant ecology with particular interest in the mechanisms and processes of succession, ecological restoration and biodiversity.

Although I am employed mainly in a teaching capacity I have also been able to continue research (60 second 'Research in a Nutshell' video).

Blackland Research Group

The Blackland Research Group is a collaboration between researchers from SRUC, the University of Edinburgh and the crofting community of North Uist to ‘Reinvigorate the Ridges’.

Blackland describes the wet, acidic, anthropogenic, highly organic, agricultural soils ranging from the thin, rocky talamh dubh on the Atlantic coasts to the deeper, more sheltered cultivated lands of the centre and east side of the Outer Hebrides. Until the mid-20th century, blackland fields produced oats, barley and hay, through application of shell sand, manure and seaweed. Most blackland fields have changed substantially since abandonment. This type of land is common in the Hebridean islands and on the western Scottish mainland.

The Blackland Research Group was formed in July 2013 to research: • Sustainable use of seaweeds as fertiliser • Microbial and macro invertebrate action in blackland soils • Blackland soil evolution and dynamics • Crop trials and management techniques • Quantifying traditional crofting methods • Engineering of appropriate machinery and tools

Preliminary research has been carried out in a series of MRes, MSc and Honours projects.

Successional processes

My main research (from 2002) is on the colonisation and successional development of vegetation on post-industrial waste (using the oil-shale bings of West Lothian as my main study sites); from the initial entrapment of seeds on a sterile substrate to the structure of the resulting plant communities. Experimentation, investigation, enquiry and analysis of new data collected from the study of vegetation on the bings are being used to determine the processes driving vegetation dynamics and the development of plant communities. Oil-shale bings are industrial spoil heaps that are unique to the county of West Lothian, within Britain and western Europe.

My initial studies on oil-shale bings led to me being invited to take part in an EU study of the oil-shale industry in the context of European energy policy and resources. The outcome, in August 2007, was an advisory report to the European Academies Science Advisory Council (easac) written in conjunction with colleagues from Estonia, Czech Republic, and Belgium.


Biodiversity audit: I was commissioned by Estates and Buildings, University of Edinburgh to produce biodiversity audits and ecology reports of the University grounds at King's Buildings Campus (April 2009)and Pollock Halls of Residence(Sept 2010). The aims of the audits were to survey existing vegetation and assess the significance of the features found in order to facilitate the development of a biodiversity action plan with clear, long-term objectives and a timetabled programme for implementation.

Community woodlands: I was co-leader of a four year project (from 2007 - 2011)on the diversity and structure of Community Woodlands in Scotland in collaboration with Dr Barbara Sumner (past-president of the Botanical Society of Scotland).

LBAP West Lothian: Consultation with West Lothian Council has brought about a Local Biodiversity Action Plan for the oil-shale bing habitat that additionally recognises the historical importance, education value, social significance and recreational function of these sites.

Knowledge Exchange

Phenology: plant ecology and diversity, conference 2010 I co-ordinated an international conference on the science of phenology with Dr Chris Jeffree of the Institute of Molecular Plant Sciences and past-president of the Botanical Society of Scotland. Conference abstracts

WLYT: In 2007/08 I worked with West Lothian Youth Theatre (now Firefly Arts) on a short film "Those Big Red Hills; the story of bings, shale oil and James Paraffin Young". The film premièred in the Vue Cinema, Livingston in April 2008 and is part of an Education package used by schools throughout West Lothian.

Other Interests

Like most people I have a life outside my working environment.

I am the Honorary General Secretary of the Botanical Society of Scotland. I also take part in regular botanical recording excursions with The Wildlife Information Centre( TWIC).

Other less academic interests include going to the theatre, hill walking, reading, drinking red wine (not always at the same time), and supporting my local football team Livingston (still hoping that they will eventually return to premier league football but will be happy if we continue to do well in the first division).

I am interested in the social history of Scotland and the geneology of the Robertson family (Clan Donnaghaidh) in particular. Fellow clan members may be interested in visiting the clan museum, located at Bruar in Perthshire.

A few other sites that you may find interesting

Mostly relating to my work - but not all....

British Ecological Society

PROSPECTS; a subsection of the National Autistic Society that specialises in finding work for young people with Asperger's Syndrome

Association of Applied Biologists

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Bo'ness and Kinneil railway part of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society

Society for Ecological Restoration International

The Royal Scots


Reforesting Scotland

Number 6 the Edinburgh and Lothians drop-in centre for adults with Asperger's Syndrome

Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management