Australian Rangeland Society

22 November 1943 –16 September 2015

Editor-in-Chief, The Rangeland Journal

We were all shocked and saddened by the unexpected passing in mid-September of Professor John Milne, Editor-in-Chief of The Rangeland Journal. John resided in Aberlour, Scotland, but the energy and commitment that he brought to the role of Editor-in-Chief gave the impression that he was always just around the corner.

Under John’s direction the Journal has expanded its publication rate from four to six issues per year and broadened its international profile. He was always striving for new ways of increasing the exposure of the journal.

We all appreciated John’s intellect and editorial rigour and in the course of those interactions with John we were exposed to various aspects of his scientific background and his interests in southern France and long walks. However, it has unfortunately taken his sudden passing to truly reveal to us his remarkable career and astounding array of community interests and hobbies. I am grateful to Jeff Maxwell, a long-time colleague and friend of John who gave the eulogy at John’s funeral, for the insights into John’s life that follow.

John was born in Edinburgh on 22 November 1943 and subsequently attended Edinburgh Academy before moving on to Edinburgh University, where he took an honours degree in Agriculture in 1967, and thence to Wye College in Kent where he completed his London University PhD. John met Netta while at Edinburgh University and they were married in 1967 before moving to Wye.

From 1970 he undertook research on pasture-animal interactions at the Hill Farming Research Organisation and the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute, which over the years produced over 100 publications on the subject and with a particular focus on rangeland systems in Europe. He led research groups for 20 years at these Institutes and was Deputy Director of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute for 10 years until 2004. He has undertaken consultancies on policy-related issues throughout the rangelands of the world. He was President of the British Society of Animal Science in 2001, was Chief Editor of Grass and Forage Science for seven years until 2009 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He was made an Honorary Professor of Aberdeen University and was awarded an MBE in 2003. More recently, he had been Chairman of the Deer Commission for Scotland for seven years until 2010.

His initial and original research focused on establishing the factors influencing the selective grazing and intake of heather (Calluna vulgaris), an important component of the hills, mountains and moorlands of northern Britain. He developed, along with his colleagues the necessary techniques to measure intake in the field.  This was a major breakthrough and led to an understanding of the effects of patterns and levels of utilisation in summer and autumn on the growth and morphology of heather, and on the intake and digestibility of the diet selected.  This research has provided the basis of an approach used in rangeland research and ecology across the world and, using plant markers, led to an ability to measure the components of a grazing animal’s diet when presented with a range of plant materials.

John’s later research was concerned essentially with the relationship between the number and foraging behaviour of herbivores present and the abundance and distribution of biomass.  In terms of rangeland management, the manipulation of these relationships not only affects herbivore performance and output and therefore economic viability, but also the environmental integrity of the system.  He focused on understanding what could be done to establish the sustainability of these systems.

John strove for precision, for thoroughness, for transparency, for experimental elegance and for excellence.  He demanded the same from those with whom he worked: it brought immense rewards and an international reputation for his research group and the Institute. He has made an enviable contribution to pasture-animal research and more generally to rangeland ecology.  That is his heritage.

Retirement was not going to get in the way of John’s desire to make a difference. His professional interests continued with his work for the Deer Commission for Scotland. He and Netta moved to Aberlour where they contributed significantly to the community through the Community Association, the village Visitor Centre, Tennis Club, Fairtrade and Garden Club.  In John’s inimitable style of wanting to get on and achieve things, he quickly became chairman of the Community Association and the Tennis Club. He was instrumental in the reinvention of the historic Aberlour train station as a Visitor Centre, which now attracts many tourists.

Closer to home, we were extremely fortunate that John’s post-retirement interests included taking on the role of Editor-in-Chief of The Rangeland Journal. His transformation of Grass and Forage Science from a journal which mostly published contributions from the UK into a truly international journal between 2003 and 2009 convinced the Publications Committee to wholeheartedly recommend his appointment. John, and his delightful wife Netta, visited Australia on a number of occasions over the past four years since taking up the role of Editor-in-Chief. Most recently, John and Netta were in Australia for the biennial conference in Alice Springs and we were again the welcome recipients of John’s sage advice and his dry Scottish humour.

His enthusiasm and energy, coupled with a concern and compassion for people’s well-being will be greatly missed.

Andrew Ash