N Weatheritt

 An Outsiders   Memory

 Nick   Weatheritt

Latterly ADAS National Field  Vegetables  Adviser 
1981 - 1991

I write as an 'outsider' as I was not on the staff of NVRS as such, but had 35 or so years of association with the station, culminating in my time in the above post based at NVRS.a. Its purpose was to effect liaison between the NVRS research and the development and advisory functions of ADAS. I may therefore bring a different perspective to this history to those who worked directly for NVRS.

My first contact with NVRS was on the University of Bristol's cricket ground in the mid-1950's. I was a plantation hand at Long Ashton RS at the time, and skippering the station's cricket team. Someone had had the bright idea that a sports day between the two stations would be a way of helping the newly founded researchers at Wellesbourne settle in to the agricultural/horticultural research'family'. So a team of cricketers and tennis players was assembled and came to Bristol: and LARS responded the following year with a return visit to Wellesbourne, and vice-versa the year after. I can't remember many of the participants' or the results: Geoff Wheatley opened the batting and George Faulkner the bowling for NVRS, whilst Jean Faulkner was the scorer. Playing for LARS was Roy Burchill, then doing his PhD at LARS -- on Apple scab, which was of critical value to the apple industry, as was his later work at East Malling on Grey Mould of strawberries to the strawberry industry.

My next encounter was in 1962 on an early potato field at Gulval, Penzance. By this time I was a trainee adviser in NAAS, and was helping to harvest a NIAB early potato trial, when we became aware of a stranger taking soil samples from the field.. This was Peter Salter, engaged on his study of the mechanical water holding capacity of soils, that subsequently has been integral to irrigation planning for all crops.

I would have had further awareness of NVRS' activities between 1962 and 1969 by virtue of two NAAS training visits, organised on a quadrennial basis at Wellesbourne. Then, following a two year spell in east Kent, I was posted, in July 1969, to NVRS to assist Tom Laflin, the then NAAS National Specialist. A year or so later Tom was persuaded by John Bleasdale to join the NVRS staff: this coincided with the reorganisation/cutbacks in NAAS, and I was moved to Evesham, Tom Pringle, temporarily, and then Eric Herwin taking over Tom Laflin's post.. However, Tom Laflin had given me the task of leading a project entitled 'Plant Establishment'. which involved considerable contact with John Bleasdale's Physiology Section and in particular David Gray. So this meant I was able to keep up a close relationship with the station, until, in 1981, I returned permanently to take over from Eric Herwin on his retirement.

The next ten years were for me both a privilege and rewarding. The first indication of privilege was inheriting a reserved parking place by the front door beside the Station Director and Secretary . My daughters were as impressed about this as the role of the post itself.

More seriously the nature of the privilege became very apparent three months or so after taking up the post, when I attended, in Denmark, in company with the two Davids, Ms Gray and Wurr, an ISHS conference on Plant Establishment. The respect paid by the other delegates from across the world to the two Davids, and through them to NVRS ,was quite remarkable, and I felt great pride for them and the UK in this response. (This was reinforced by listening to some of the papers presented, either of trivial experiments and/ or of sloppy experimental procedure. Obviously the name of John Nelder and GENSTAT had not penetrated or was not understood.) The consciousness of this privilege stayed with me, and I was always irritated when I overheard criticism of the work and worth of NVRS research: how lucky the UK, and the vegetable industry in particular, was to have had the benefit of this skill and dedication. Indeed, dedication and enthusiasm maintained through c.30 years of financial cuts and with the threat of the redundancy axe always present.

Professional life was rewarding in that I was always able to find someone at the station who could offer information or advice to problems that were passed to me : a particular memory is a query as to what could be the cause of death of plants in a local glasshouse: Richard Hardwick took this on and showed the cause to be from an 'effusion' of di-butyl phallate from newly installed irrigation hose lines a phenomenon that had not previously been encountered. I think of this every time I have to wipe this film from the ventilation system from the inside of my car windscreen. (see footnotes one, two, and three) There were also flattering occasions when I would be consulted for information or comment about the industry, growers and ADAS colleagues ( I remember a few queries from statisticians about who might be responsible for some questionable experimental data ! )

More importantly, was the reward of the association with the worthwhile research that went on; sound scientifically and to an increasingly market driven industry and its' suppliers, of much practical value. Some of the results of the research were not always welcome: Bob Maude's seed investigations that showed some diseases were seed-borne was not good news to some seed growers( I would have loved to have a fly on the wall of the office of the deservedly well respected, but occasionally prickly, Dr Dawson of Tozer's Seeds when Bob showed that Halo-blight of Runner Beans was seed-borne) but the resulting research providing relatively simple seed treatments to cure these diseases were welcomed not only by seedsmen and growers but also by 'Green' enthusiasts since these treatments reduced and even eliminated the need for field spraying. David Gray's investigations into seed quality and germination characteristics was of immense help, particularly to lettuce growers and to the hugely expanding sector of plug plant propagators. Harold Robert's research into the germination patterns of weed seeds was of great value to herbicide producers as was Alan Walker's subsequent investigations into soil induced herbicide degeneration. I could go on at length, but hopefully this book will fill in blanks I'm obliged to leave out.

Of course, there were disappointments. Fluid drilling, into which much effort and resources, and liaison with engineers, was devoted, never took off, though this was no reflection on the science and technology involved. Mini-cauliflower experiments were 10 or so years ahead of their time; they are now a standard feature of supermarket salad shelves: and I wonder if any credit is now paid as to where the original concept came from!

I find it curious, indeed perverse, that at the time I am composing this contribution about 60 years of scientific research the politicians are beginning to regard food security, which will have to be backed by research, as a high priority for the future, that this centre of excellence is to be closed down.

I am sad that to end by saluting 'Vivat NVRS' would be mis-placed.

Nick Weatheritt


  1. Alan Scaife writes
    I thought it was the glazing strip rather than the water hoses that produced the toxic vapour. Didn't the glasshouse installers have to replace it? I recall that it was just one cultivar of cabbages which suffered - and it makes one wonder about the subtleties of GE interactions. Like Nick, I've often been suspicious of the plastic smells in new cars. (Well that's my excuse for driving one which is 13 years old!)

  2. David Wurr writes
    As I'm sure you remember it was indeed the glazing strips which caused the problem and your paper below with Tom Fyfield and Rosemary Cole describes the problem. https://qir.kyushu-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2324/8113/1/KJ00004506696.pdf

  3. J K A Bleasdale writes
    Re Phthalate. The problem arose in the Controlled Environment Cabinets and was traced to blue thermo couple wire. We suspected phthalate right away as I had had lethal effects on lettuce in some trials of plastic film for Courtaulds. The big episode occurred with new Glasshouses at Wellesbourne which killed cabbage seedlings being grown to test the niformity of the houses. The problem was the plastic glazing strip. All the glass had to be taken off and the strip replaced with safe plastic. After that we tested all plastic going CE or the Glasshouses and that is how the hose was discovered. We then issued a general warning to the trade.

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