A chance meeting with Denise Walton at an Edinburgh farmer’s market calls to mind the man we have in common – James Hutton.
One of my day jobs is chairing the James Hutton Institute, which carries out scientific research in the fields of agriculture, plant science, environment and water. Denise, with her husband Chris and business partner Amanda Cayley, farms 680 acres at Peelham, an award-winning organic farm on the edge of the Lammermuir Hills.
Peelham overlooks Slighhouses, the farm Hutton inherited from his father and began farming in 1754. Denise has made a study of Hutton’s life and work, acted as advisor to the BBC television series Men of Rock and spoke at the launch of the James Hutton Institute two years ago.
Hutton, one of the founders of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, is best remembered as the father of geology and his theory of deep time, which challenged the religious orthodoxy of the day that the age of the earth was only a few thousand years. However, we chose his name for the institute in recognition of his achievements not only in geology but many other fields of research too.
At Edinburgh University he read mathematics, logic and metaphysics. After graduating he trained as a solicitor, but left the law to return to university to study chemistry. He then moved to Paris and Leiden, graduating in medicine before returning to Edinburgh, where he founded a chemical company with a schoolfriend which provided him with an income for the rest of his life.
As a farmer he studied the most advanced techniques of his age and wrote a treatise on agriculture, which he completed but never published. The James Hutton Institute has been working on the manuscript, held by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, with the hope of publishing it for the first time.
Admittedly, it is stretching the connection a long way to include John Lorne Campbell, but his work on Canna showed that efficient farming methods could be compatible with a love and understanding of nature and wildlife conservation. He would have had much in common with both Peelham and the James Hutton Institute.