Angus Russel

Angus JF Russel BSc (Hons), MAgrSc, PhD, NDA, FrAgS was born in Edinburgh on 20 March 1936 and died on 8 December 2018 of a heart attack in the Borders General Hospital. He was a prominent and influential member of the Hill Farming Research Organisation (HFRO) when it began to unravel and provided the evidence base on which an informed, better understanding of how to utilise Scottish marginal land resources for agriculture emerged.

Angus Russel

On joining the HFRO in the early 1960s, Angus Russel undertook a detailed study of the nutritional factors that limited the hill ewe’s performance and of the impact poor nutrition had on the ewe in late pregnancy. He demonstrated unequivocally that hill pastures were unable to sustain an adequate level of nutrition and that supplementary feed given in relation to late foetal growth and development was essential in producing lambs of adequate size and weight.

Together with nutritional studies by other members of the HFRO that demonstrated the need to improve nutrition through early lactation, by utilising improved pastures in the spring, and the need to build up fat reserves for the mating season and winter, it was possible to develop a system of hill and upland farming that radically improved performance and profitability. Angus Russel’s contribution to these developments was crucial.

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A key to manipulating late pregnancy nutrition with a greater degree of accuracy and cost effectiveness is knowing how many lambs the ewe is carrying during that period. With typical innovative flair, Angus Russel cooperated with medical scientists in developing ultrasonic scanning techniques for the pregnancy diagnosis of sheep. It is no exaggeration to say this has transformed the effectiveness of feeding sheep in late pregnancy. It is now widely used across the sheep industry and has brought huge benefits, not least to animal welfare.

His contribution to the development of the sheep industry was recognised by the award of the Royal Agricultural Society of England Technology Medal (1991), National Sheep Association George Hedley Memorial Medal Award in 1997 and the National Sheep Association Award in 2010.

During the 1980s, as a greater diversion of opportunity in developing the marginal agricultural areas of the UK was encouraged, Angus Russel not only contributed significantly to beef cow research but, in an imaginative development, established that our native feral goats had an undercoat of cashmere and through cross breeding and embryo transfer of genetic material from abroad showed that it was possible to produce cashmere of the finest quality from Scottish hill resources. He also worked with South American camelids. His research was of international significance. The opportunity to produce significant industrial quantities of cashmere and other fine fibres in Scotland was weakened by a support regime that favoured traditional sheep and cattle regimes.

These are just some of the highlights of an innovative capability that enhanced his international status as an exceptional agricultural scientist. His professionalism, intellect, attention to detail and organisational abilities, and his communication skills, both in writing and the spoken word, characterised his work and earned him immense respect. He travelled and lectured widely across continents. His friendship, wise counsel, sense of humour, integrity, loyalty and commitment to HFRO all stand out as characteristics of a man who endeared himself to all his colleagues. He was a President of the British Society of Animal Production and was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Agricultural Societies for his outstanding contribution to UK agricultural progress, having published 88 peer-reviewed publications; a substantial contribution to agricultural science. He was Chairman of the Scottish Centre for Animal Welfare Science from 1995-2001.

Angus Russel was born in 1936, the only child of Jeanie Couston and James Russel. He grew up in Liberton and went to George Heriot’s School. He studied Agriculture at Edinburgh University. While working at Smedley’s local pea canning factory he met a fellow student, his future wife, Sadie Cousin. After graduating with a double first, he travelled to New Zealand to complete a Masters, and on his return started his career with the Hill Farming Research Organisation, where he completed his PhD. He married Sadie in 1963: in 1969 they adopted Andrew, followed by Ewan two years later.

Moving to Peebles in 1975, he and his family became embedded in Peebles life. He was a member of the Kirk Session of Peebles Old Parish Church and served as Session Clerk. Christian principles shaped his life, influenced his attitudes and opinions, and dictated his relationships with all with whom he came in contact. As an Elder he was devoted to those in his care and it was with reluctance that he had to relinquish these duties on health grounds. He will be remembered for his principles, quiet pragmatism, experience, wisdom and kindness. After retirement, Angus volunteered with the Borders Samaritans, taking telephone calls from people needing to talk, and later became Chairman of Borders Samaritans. His compassion for others knew no bounds.

In 2000, he and Sadie had a serious car accident in France which affected their health from then on. After Sadie died in 2004, Angus kept in touch with her extended family in South Africa and there he met Dorothy. In 2010, they were married, and Dorothy has been at the centre of Angus’s family, and the Peebles and Church communities, ever since. As life had to take a more leisurely pace, he recognised how wonderfully fortunate he was to have Dorothy in his life over the last nine years. On calling at Angus’ home he and Sadie, and he and Dorothy, unfailingly gave one a warm welcome. The sadness we have known since his death has been felt in so many different parts of the world.

Angus was a musician too: he played the piano, sang at university and took part in choir performances in Peebles Old Parish Church. He gave much encouragement to his son Andrew as he developed his own musical talents. At Sadie’s Service of Thanksgiving he asked Andrew to play an organ piece that was a family favourite. It was a great privilege for those at Angus’ memorial service to hear that same piece, a wonderful rendition of Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wely’s Sortie in BFlat.

Husband to Dorothy, father to Andrew and Ewan, father-in-law to Susan and grandpa to Angus and Ayla, Angus Russel will be remembered as modest, but one of the finest of men, whose love and faith was always obvious. He leaves the world a better place for the people he loved, the dedication and intellect he gave to agricultural science, the causes he believed in and the cherished memories of so many people.

JEFF MAXWELL