Dr. Robert (Bob) Glentworth 1911 – 2007

Originally published in the July 2007 edition of the Membership Magazine (No.51)

Dr. Robert (Bob) Glentworth 1911 – 2007

Throughout his entire career at the Macaulay Institute for Soil Research, thirty years of which were as Head of the Soil Survey of Scotland, Dr Robert (Bob) Glentworth constantly sought to promote the reputation of the Institute and, as the pioneer of soil survey in Scotland, to have survey results accepted and utilised by the wider community.  The creation of a comprehensive soil database, with information on the different soil types, their distribution, morphology and properties, was his foremost objective.  Although his career focused primarily on the application of soil survey to benefit agricultural production, initially through soil testing and latterly with the development of the land use capability programme, his legacy his immense.  Many of the more recent soil and environmental research programmes undertaken at the re-named Macaulay Land Use Research Institute (now the Macaulay Institute) rely heavily on the same soil survey work Bob initiated in the early 1940’s.

Born in Sheffield in 1911, Bob left school at 14 and soon after enrolled within the British Empire Boys Immigration Scheme leaving England for the prairies of Canada.  Employment on a farm in Manitoba must have been both a scenic and cultural change but, despite the harsh conditions, his fascination with the soil became evident through successful completion of both a diploma in agriculture and later a degree in agriculture from Manitoba University in 1936.  During this period in the thirties he learned the basic fundamentals of soil survey under the excellent tutelage of Dr. J.H. Ellis.  Rapid reconnaissance survey was the priority with the target of on Township (36 aq. Miles) per day.  During the survey of South-Central and South-Western Manitoba sheets, his survey team travelled 60,000 miles across earth roads in five seasons (1st April to end September), starting at 08:00hrs and working a full day on Saturday!

A chance encounter with Dr. William Ogg, head of the Macaulay Institute, in 1937 led to him being offered a job in the Granite City and he returned in 1938 as a post-graduate student.  Initially work focused on the soils of the Insch area of Aberdeenshire, with particular reference to their classification and mapping.  Using experience gained in Manitoba, the concept of soil associations was introduced, the association being defined as a group of soils developed on a particular parent material and differing primarily in their hydrologic condition.  Once settled in Aberdeen, Bob enrolled for Ph.D. studies at Aberdeen University completing his doctorate, the first in soil science, in 1942.  The results were subsequently published in the Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  In the war years, the survey programme was modified, with emphasis on soil testing, often on a field-by-field basis.  Transport was by bicycle with a Government mileage rate of 1/2d per mile (IMPERIAL MONEY) or 0.42p per 1.6093km (METRIC MONEY).

Immediate post-war and having been joined by Dr. R. Hart, Bob completed a reconnaissance soil association map of Aberdeenshire and part of Kincardineshire.  By 1948, the year in which Bob published in the first edition of Journal of Soil Science, reconnaissance soil survey had not only been replace by a more systematic soil programme but also involved a significant increase in staff numbers.  Survey continued to expand, often with the creation of regional centres, such that by 1976 and Bob’s retirement, the Soil Survey of Scotland had grown from a one-man band to a flourishing and expanding organisation with a staff of 30.  During his career Bob had supervised the publication of 23 soil maps (based on 1 inch/mile 5th edition Geological Survey maps), including 36 sheet areas and covering approximately half the area of Scotland.  Numerous ad hoc and more applied oil surveys had also been undertaken.

Out side Scotland, Bob’s knowledge proved invaluable to the FAO mapping programme and latterly to the Soil Map of Europe, 1:1 million scale studies.  Of greater importance, however, was the fact that his enthusiasm rubbed off on many of the young graduates sent to the Macaulay for training.  Often they stayed to develop a career at the Institute.

Away from the rigours of work, Bob’s hobbies were varied but centred on the outdoor life, either cycling, walking or as a keen watercolour artist, often in the company of local artist Jackson Simpson.   Latterly he was a senior member of Deeside Gold Club.

Bob was held in high esteem by all his colleagues, as witnessed by the large turn-out at his funeral but especially by his fellow surveyors who owe so much to him.  Through work initiated and led by Bob, they were part of a grand adventure to create soil maps which, in time, would complement those produced by the Geological Survey.  Such soil maps are today, of undeniable significance to environmental studies in Scotland and beyond.  Their value is realised by so many scientists, the number of applications increases annually and despite the current trend in soil science towards molecular studies, the importance, value and role of soil survey and the data it produces, will never be diminished.

Provided by Jim Gauld