Prof. Peter Bullock

Professor Peter Bullock 1937 - 2008 - A leading soil scientist who tirelessly promoted the importance of soil

Professor Peter Bullock was a distinuished, influential and inspirational soil scientist with a professional career spanning some 50 years.  His professional experience included: soil mapping and land evaluation, soil mineralogy, soil genesis, land degradation and global environmental change.  He worked in the UK and in the USA as well as visiting some 20 countries on a professional basis.

Peter (born 6th July 1937) was a leading soil scientist who tirelessly promoted the importance of soil.  After graduating with honours in geogrphy at Birmingham University, he joined the Soil Survey of England and Wales (SSEW) as a soil surveyor in 1958.  He was based in the Leeds area and undertook an MSc in Agricultural Chemistry at Leeds University in 1963.  The following year he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to read for his Doctorate in Agronomy at Cornell University where he worked on the translocation of clay in soils.  A brief spell as a field soil surveyor in New York State with the USDA Soil Conservation Service followed but, in 1967, he returned to the Unitied Kingdom to take up the position of Head of Mineralogy in the SSEW, based at Rothamsted Experimental Station.

Peter rose to become a leading figure in UK soil science and one who was universally liked and admired by all who knew him.  He took over directorship of the Soil Survey of England and Wales at Rothamsted Experimental Station in 1985, at a time when the organisation was threatened with closure, and won its reprieve,  This lead to its successful transfer from Rothmsted to the then Cranfield Institute of Technology two years later.  His courageous and charismatic leadership was a major factor in ensuring the continued existence of a research institute focused on English and Welsh soil resources.  The National Soil Resources INstitute at Cranfield University as it later became was the direct descendant of the Soil Survey of England and Wales.

In his new post Peter developed facilities for study of the microscopic structure and morphology of UK soils in support of soil mapping and classification and became a leading world expert in the field of soil micromorphology.  His terminology for describing soil micromorphological features is still the most widely used worldwide.  He went on to produce, amongst other things, the first major atlas of soil thin-sections as well as a systematic terminology for their description.  He led work in the development of soil thin-section technologies and initiated much of the early work on computerised image analysis of soil micromorphology.  Acknowledgement of his widespread expertise in this area saw him become first Secretary-General of the International Commission on Soil Micromorphology and then it's President in 1978.

In 1981, Peter joined the Council of the British Society of Soil Science, cementing his strong association with this Society which was to continue throughout his career.  He later served as its President for the years 1995 - 1996.  Peter had taken on the wider remit of Head of Research in SSEW when in 1984, the decision was taken to withdraw funding from the Country's main programme of strategic soil mapping.  Faced with the imminent closure of SSEW, he was put in charge of a campaign to save the organisation.  His single-minded determination and charasmatic leadership led to a tapered reduction in funding and a lifeline transfer to the Silsoe Campus of Cranfield Institute of Technology, then the home to Silsoe Collge.  He became Director of SSEW in 1986 and then of the Soil Survey and Land Research Centre, following the move to Cranfield in 1987, also then being made Professor of Land Resource Management.


Peter's reputation as a leading and influential soil scientist grew through this period.  He chaired the important Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) Review Committee.  In 1988, he became the Chairman of the Heads of the Soil Surveys Committee of the European Union, a role in which he worked to align the activities of the soil survey organisations accross Europe.  This led into his Chairmanship of the Advisory Committee of the European Soil Bureau in 1996.  In 1991, he became a member of the UK Climate Change Impacts Review Group, recognising the role that soil systems have in the wider debate on climate change that was then only just coming to public attention.

Peter's growing influence in governmental and international scientific bodies continued in 1994 when he became a special adviser to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP)for their seminal inquiry into the sustainable use of soil.  This was followed by his invitation to join the prestigious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  as Coordinator of Impacts on Soils and Land Use.  He served as a member of the Governing Body of Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's (BBSRC) INstitute of Grassland and Environmental Research and he subsequently joined the BBSRC Senior Appointments Review Committee.

Upon his retirement in 1997 after eleven years as Director of the Soil Survey and Land Research Centre, Peter was made Emeritus Professor of Land Resource Management in Cranfield University.  He continued his association with IUSS becoming a member of their Core Committee of the Working Group on Land Degradation and Desertification.  In 2005 he was a joint author of a seminal European Commission Publication on the Soil Resources of Europe.

Despite retirement, Peter retained and active interest in the work of the National Soil Resources INstitute at Cranfield.  He was instrumental in the launch of the World Soil Survey Archive and Collection (WOSSAC) - a unique, global repository of soil survey materials collated from over 250 territories worldwide.

Peter's final major contribution was through hos work in the development of the widely acknowledged 'Soil-Net' educational Internet Portak, a resource aimed at school teachers and their students.  His texts have been consulted online by users in hundrends of schools worldwide.

Throughout his career, Peter was a great enthusiast for soils, a strong supporter of younger soil scientists, always willing to listen to the ideas of others and to offer advice and counsel.  He was a very good collegue and a good man to have known.

Privatley, Peter was a keen sportsman, especially with regard to cricket, a member of the MCC and lifetime supporter of Luton Town Football Club; and was a more than competent footballer himself.

Adapted from the article written by Stephen Hallett, Roy Morgan and Peter Loveland in the July 2008 edition of The British Society of Soil Science Newsletter No. 53