Obituary: George Innes Lumsden, FRSE, geologist.

George Innes Lumsden
George Innes Lumsden
Have your say

Born: 27 June, 1926, in Peterculter, Aberdeenshire. Died: 4 September, 2012, in Oxford, aged 86.

George Innes Lumsden, the former director of the British Geological Survey, who has died after a long illness, was the only child of George Lumsden MM, a policeman, and his wife Margaret. His primary education was at schools in Ballater and Torphins and progressed to secondary education at Banchory Academy, where he became school captain and achieved prizes in science, mathematics and history.

Influenced by headmaster Archibald Gullett he took up a state scholarship in Pure Physics at Aberdeen University, though he had also gained entry to the Meteorological Office as a trainee. He completed a BSc in physics in 1947, but fell under the spell of geology, won the Lyon Prize in geology in 1947 and graduated with first-class honours in the subject in 1949.

Vacation employment with the Directorate of Opencast Coal Production convinced Innes he wanted to be involved in applied geology and so he turned down an invitation to lecture at Glasgow University to take up an appointment as a geologist in the Geological Survey of Great Britain on 12 September, 1949, and was posted to Edinburgh.

His first two years were restricted to work associated with coal-mining, so he could complete his National Service commitment in a reserved occupation. He was given the task of resurveying the southern half of the Douglas coalfield in Lanarkshire and soon became involved in logging and interpreting cores from boreholes, recording underground sections in collieries and in advising on day-to-day geological problems throughout eastern Ayrshire and southern Lanarkshire.

Innes found solving problems and giving geological advice extremely rewarding. In 1951 he was set the task of surveying the Carboniferous of the Canonbie area of Dumfriesshire. He commissioned the sinking of the Archerbeck Borehole which, at 4,604ft in depth, was the deepest cored borehole in the UK at the time and established an unbroken sequence of most of the strata of the Lower Carboniferous.

Innes was also heavily involved in advisory work. He established a route for the M9 to avoid abandoned oilshale workings and a rerouting of the A1 to achieve a suitable site for the Torness Power Station and also allow the maximum development of limestone resources in East Lothian saving many millions of pounds. Around the same time there was increasing interest in the feasibility of underground storage, which required a strong cross disciplinary approach involving both geologists and hydreogeologists. Innes was in the forefront of this development and travelled to Sweden to learn what was being done there.

In 1970 he was appointed district geologist in charge of South Scotland and moved significantly towards scientific management. He created strong links with other disciplines, particularly geochemistry and geophysics and got heavily involved in the projects of the Industrial Minerals Assessment Unit, surveys for metallic mineral resources, and the search for suitable geology for the underground storage of radioactive waste.

On being instructed to start a resurvey of the Southern Uplands he decided traditional mapping would take too long and achieve little. Instead he started the first multidisciplinary regional geological survey project. Geologists, geophysicists, geochemists and others worked together and set a pattern which was soon to be copied in similar projects throughout the UK. He developed strong links with the Scottish Development Department to increase the application of geology to the benefit of the people of Scotland and also to secure funding for the survey in the applied field. 
In 1980 he was appointed Assistant Director Edinburgh and Senior Officer Scotland. He developed the facilities in the survey’s new Murchison House site gaining publicity for the organisation and much better communication with government, industry and the public. This had its ups and downs and one difficult function was negotiating with protesters who were threatening to use physical means to stop radioactive waste disposal surveys, but the problems were much reduced by getting the individuals into Murchison House and engaging with them.

His role in Scotland was terminated abruptly in 1982 when he was appointed deputy director at the Survey’s new headquarters at Keyworth, Nottingham. His task was to get Keyworth going and he did, completing the conversion of the existing buildings and developing new facilities for a modern geological survey. He also introduced the concept of a centralised databank of geological data which came to fruition as the National Geosciences Data Centre and the Information and Central Services Division.

He was now heavily involved in the day-to-day management of the British Geological Survey (BGS) with its 800 staff and £35 million a year income at a time of reductions in overall funding and difficult relationships with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). He succeeded in preventing the transfer of Hydrogeology out of BGS and the closure of the Exeter Office. NERC were involved in discussing the future of BGS without BGS having the opportunity to state its case and with the support of the BGS directorate he sought the assistance of the Chief Scientist at the Cabinet Office and got an official reprimand from NERC for doing so. The result, however, was the setting up of the Study Group into Geological Surveying chaired by Sir Clifford Butler. In 1985 he was invited by NERC to become ­director of BGS!

As director he had no deputy and was responsible for the total management of BGS including the work associated with ensuring the Butler Study Group understood the function and responsibility of a national Geological Survey. Massive restructuring was involved, but he was successful in stabilising funding and managed to revive the annual recruitment of scientists. When NERC appointed a director of earth sciences based in Swindon, he decided to step away from ensuing controversy, offered his resignation and retired in August 1987.

He then accepted an appointment to the Civil Service Commission to chair boards responsible for recruiting scientists. In 1992 he transferred to carrying out the same function in the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency of the Ministry of Defence, stepping down from that role in 1999.

In the latter part of his BGS career, Innes was heavily involved in Directors of Western European Geological Surveys (WEGS) and became secretary and then chairman of its Standing Group on Geological Information related to the Environment. He was finally elected to be the only honorary chairman of that group. He compiled and edited a book entitled Geology and the Environment in Western Europe and, in 1996 became the secretary of the Directors’ Forum of European Geological Surveys, which facilitates collaboration among national organisations of more than 40 countries. After considerable success he retired in September 2002.

Throughout his geological career Innes was an innovator. He had a fundamental belief in the need for a national geological survey as a basic requirement for growth and development. This often brought him into conflict with his political masters but his legacy is that the British Geological Survey, the oldest in the world, has survived for 177 years and has evolved to meet the needs of the modern world.

Innes married Sheila Thomson in 1958 and together they created a great spirit of camaraderie among colleagues throughout the Geological Survey. Among the Geological Surveys of Europe both were deeply respected and their role, together, as ambassadors for BGS should not be underestimated. The support and encouragement given by Innes to junior staff as they progressed was much appreciated and he will be fondly remembered.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila and their three children, Graham, Richard and Gillian.