Peter Bullock

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Professor Peter Bullock 1937-2008

A leading soil scientist who tirelessly promoted the importance of soil Professor Peter Bullock was a hugely distinguished, influential and inspirational soil scientist with a prestigious 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 the USA as well as visiting some 20 other countries on a professional basis.

Professor Peter Bullock
Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Peter Bullock for his role on the IPCC

Peter Bullock 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 1986, at a time when the organisation was threatened with closure, and won its reprieve. This led to its successful transfer 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 today is the direct descendant of the Soil Survey of England and Wales.

Born in 1937, Peter Bullock developed his early interest in the natural environment studying Geography at Birmingham University. He joined the fledgling Soil Survey of England and Wales (SSEW) in 1958 to work as a soil surveyor during which time he was based in Yorkshire. In 1963, he returned to university to study for a Masters in Agricultural Chemistry at Leeds University. A year later he was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship which took him to Cornell University to read for his Doctorate in Agronomy, focused on clay translocation in soils. He worked briefly for the United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service as a field soil surveyor in New York State before returning to the UK in 1967 to take up the position of Head of the Mineralogy Section in SSEW based at Rothamsted Experimental Station in Harpenden. Rothamsted allowed him the opportunity to indulge both his scientific and sporting interests and he was a key and enthusiastic member of the Cricket team for many years.

In his new post, Bullock 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, among other things, the first major atlas of soil thin-sections as well as a systematic terminology for their description. He led work on 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, Bullock joined the Council of the British Society of Soil Science (BSSS), cementing his strong association with this society which was to continue throughout his career. He later served as its President for the years 1995 - 96. Bullock 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, Bullock was put in charge of a campaign to save the organisation. His single-minded determination and charismatic leadership led to a tapered reduction in funding and a lifeline transfer to the Silsoe campus of Cranfield Institute of Technology, then home to Silsoe College. He become 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.

Bullock'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 Soils Surveys Committee of the European Union a role in which he worked to align the activities of the soil survey organisations across 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.

Bullock’s growing influence on 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. THis work was recently recognised when Peter received his copy of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded collectively to the members of the IPCC panel File:NobelPeacePrize.pdf. He served as a member of the Governing Body of the 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, Bullock 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, Bullock retained an active interest in the work of the National Soil Resources Institute at Cranfield. He focused his energy on a number of projects. 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 his work in the development of the widely acknowledged ‘Soil-Net’ educational Internet portal, a resource aimed at school teachers and their students. His texts have been consulted online by users in hundreds of schools worldwide.

Peter Bullock, born 06/07/1937, died on 05/04/2008, aged 70

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