Harry McClelland (FRAgS)

On Remembrance Day, Scotland lost a stalwart of agricultural research and innovation – Harry McClelland, who for many years headed up SRUC’s Hill and Mountain Research Centre, based at Kirkton and Auchtertyre, near Crianlarich, died exactly 50 years to the day after the lease for those farms was signed by the board of the (then) West of Scotland Agricultural College (WSAC).

Harry made an enormous contribution to the development of the Scottish sheep industry in the latter part of the last century, leaving a legacy that will long benefit the upland livestock areas of the country.

Harry was an Ulsterman, brought up in Co Tyrone. He graduated with a degree in agriculture from Queen’s University, Belfast, in 1958 and began his career working with the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, teaching at Greenmount Agricultural College and then acting as farm director at the Glenwherry Hill and Upland Research farm.

In 1969, he moved his young family to Scotland to take up the post of sheep development officer at the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO), in Edinburgh. It was during his time at ABRO that Harry developed a particular interest in the genetics of lamb growth and body composition.

He then moved on to the post of hill farming advisor, with WSAC, in 1975, a role which included the leadership of the recently established unit at Kirkton. During his time at Kirkton, he developed a joint programme of research with ADAS, at Redesdale, in Northumberland, and with HFRO, at Sourhope, in the Borders, to develop and demonstrate the ‘Two pasture system’.

Harry was also key to the development and expansion in use of feed blocks for hill sheep and, along with Angus Russel, at HFRO, established pregnancy scanning as a key innovation which found rapid application in sheep flocks in Scotland and much further afield.

This was a period of large-scale land improvement and free advisory work, leading to considerable improvement of nutrition and health within hill sheep systems. This also led to an overall expansion and improvement in productivity of the sector across the UK.

Harry was a key applied researcher and advisor, much in demand to lead farm demonstrations, evening meetings and conferences, and providing specialist consultancy support to individual farmers and estates throughout Scotland.

In 1986, he moved back to Edinburgh, where he worked as SAC’s senior sheep specialist for Scotland until his retirement in 1994. He was instrumental in establishing 'The hill sheep breeding project', involving co-operation with the Scottish Blackface Sheep Breeders’ Association and the Roslin Institute. Harry played the role of both scientist and politician – without the latter skill not nearly as much could have been achieved – and these studies provided the most extensive set of applied sheep genetic data in the world for their time.

Harry was also instrumental in supporting and encouraging the research work conducted in Edinburgh which led to the roll out of back-fat scanning and genetic indexation for body composition in sheep, the establishment of Sire Reference Schemes, and the pioneering of artificial insemination and embryo transfer services in sheep – all techniques widely applied in the industry today.

Harry was a governor at HFRO, a member of the MLC sheep committee and a founder member of the FASL board. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Agricultural Societies in 1986 in recognition of his contribution to sheep farming in the UK.

He possessed not only a great ability to horizon scan and to ensure that research was channelled into practical innovation, but he had an unrivalled ability to communicate his science to practical farmers, to politicians and to research funders with equal effectiveness. This used a self-deprecating style of presentation, mixed with plenty of humorous anecdotes, to get his points across.

Never one to shy away from a good debate, he managed to argue his case forcefully without raising hackles and often making great friends in the process. His diplomatic skills were particularly helpful in managing a number of large EU research projects involving people from many different countries with very varying cultural approaches.

He was a man driven by a great desire to improve the lot of those around him and was particularly supportive of students, and young research workers, providing wise guidance and effective challenge in equal measure. Many of his younger colleagues became lifelong friends.

But, Harry was first and foremost a family man and it is to his wife, Maureen, his two daughters, Janet and Suzanne, and to his son Ian, many condolences have been extended. They were joined by a great number of former colleagues and clients at the service of thanksgiving, held recently in Dunblane Cathedral, for the life of a man who gave so much to our farming industry.