Dr Audrey Litterick

Crop and Soil Scientist

All images on this page were kindly provided by Dr Audrey Litterick.

  • BORN 1964, Scone, Perth, Scotland
  • WORKED Scottish Agricultural College (both Ayr and Aberdeen Campuses); Aberdeen University; Audrey Litterick Consulting Ltd.; Earthcare Technical Ltd.
  • HONOURS BSc (Hons, 1st) in Horticulture from Strathclyde University; PhD (Plant Pathology) from Glasgow University; Member of the British Society of Soil Science; Member of the Renewable Energy Association; FACTS-approved trainer (UK Fertiliser Advisor Certification and Training Scheme)

Artistic Connections

I play in two bands. The main one (The Loch Tay Steamers) plays primarily Scottish traditional music and songs. The other (Ewe Three) is a new grouping, which plays mainly pop and rock. I also play regularly in informal music sessions all over Scotland with musicians in many genres of music.

MUSIC

I enjoyed being involved in a small way with helping to inspire creation of music about soils. I have had little to do with contemporary music. All my playing to date has involved traditional music, pop, rock and country with a bit of classical choral music , so this was a new departure for me.

Education

I went to a new comprehensive school (Balwearie Highschool, Kirkcaldy, Fife) which taught science to 1st and 2nd year secondary pupils in an innovative, highly practical way. Despite having a stay at home Mum and a bank manager Dad (neither of whom had any interest in science of any sort, and no university education), I was totally hooked on science by the end of 1st year secondary. It really was down to excellent secondary teachers since I had no encouragement whatsoever from my parents or wider family.

I had some very bad experiences in my early career (after graduation with my PhD), with extremely old-fashioned, misogynistic men failing to give me chances to develop. Such problems were common for young women back in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in certain scientific fields including mine (agricultural science).

I searched hard for a move which would bring me a better boss and more “enabling” colleagues and found it after a long search at Aberdeen University. Finding colleagues who believed in me helped me to believe in myself and my career has gone from strength to strength since I moved there in 1998.

I have taken several (what many colleagues and family members considered) “career risks” over the years. For example, three times I have moved from a permanent position to a temporary one in order to stay in an interesting job and to (in my view) improve my long-term prospects. I have never once regretted taking calculated risks and am now in the enviable position of working within two successful small companies which specialise in interesting, useful work with a clear environmental purpose.

Occupations

Plant Pathologist

I ran the Horticultural Crop Health Clinic at Scottish Agricultural College in Auchincruive, Ayr. Although I loved this job, my immediate boss and head of department felt that I was likely to leave to have children and put no faith in me. Scottish Government also cut funding to my discipline and I suspected that I would eventually be made redundant. (Indeed I would have been, since the facility was closed 2 years after I left). I decided to change tack and accepted a job as a plant scientist at a new venture in a prestigious department at Aberdeen University in 1998.

Deputy Director (Centre for Organic Agriculture, Plant and Soil Science Dept. Aberdeen University

I began work here as a project manager, applying for grants for research funding, supervising PhD students and post docs and was rapidly promoted through the ranks to become deputy director of the centre, in day to day charge of up to 25 staff and students. The centre moved to Newcastle university in 2001 and I chose to remain with my husband, in Aberdeen.

Audrey running a soils training course

Researcher and educator (Crop and Soil Systems, Scottish Agricultural College, Aberdeen)

I helped run the Masters Programme in Organic Agriculture, applied for grant funding in crop and soil science projects and took part in the Scottish Government Science research programme in sustainable and organic crop production. I felt that my key skills were not being used here, due to the science being rather too theoretical and not sufficiently applied. I had little contact with farmers and land managers and for that reason applied for a temporary post at a lower level in Environment Division (and got it).

Soils and Crop Consultant (Environment Division, Scottish Agricultural College, Aberdeen)

From 2005 until late 2009, I was SAC’s “Organics Specialist” and was responsible for keeping the advisors at SAC’s 24 advisory offices (located throughout Scotland) up to date on the latest information relating to organic wastes/ products and relevant legislation.  My involvement as a key member of SAC‘s specialist fertiliser advisory team along with my “FACTS-approved trainer” status placed me in an ideal position to help land managers understand the benefits of bulky organic materials for soils, landscaping, land remediation and crop production systems. I (along with a well-known scientist colleague) completed a substantial revision of several of the Scottish Technical Notes for fertiliser use on crops in Scotland.

Audrey Litterick Consulting Ltd. (owner and director) and Earthcare Technical Ltd. (shareholder, director and consultant). From early 2010, I have worked as a soil, crop and environmental consultant through two companies. Audrey Litterick Consulting (which I set up in 2009) primarily offers advice on small-scale horticultural production for crofters and small-scale farmers and growers. Earthcare Technical was set up by two colleagues in 2008. I became a partner in 2011 and a director in 2013. Earthcare Technical has developed an excellent reputation as a specialist consultancy company. Work involves the design, implementation and management of a wide range of projects involving field experiments in agriculture, horticulture, brownfield site restoration and landscaping to develop safe, effective methods for recycling organic materials to land. Clients include farmers and growers, local authorities, waste management companies, WRAP and Zero Waste Scotland.

I am an enthusiastic and accomplished trainer, a recognised expert in my field and I have published and contributed to a significant number of research papers and project reports which have defined best practice for using organic materials including composts and digestates in agriculture, horticulture and land restoration. I am determined to help make the Scottish organics recycling sector one of the best, most ambitious and most forward-looking in the world. I am passionate about soil health and the importance of soil health in determining crop health and productivity in agriculture and field horticulture. I am currently involved with several government and levy-board-funded projects which are looking at strategies to measure soil health and improve it using cover crops, rotational and tillage techniques and organic amendments including composts and digestates.

Pants buried for 6 weeks – excellent soil health


Pants buried for 6 weeks – poor soil health

Scientific Achievements

Apart from the training courses which I run (for which I nowadays get consistently excellent feedback), my main achievements would be the publications which define best practice for farmers, large and small-scale growers and waste managers. These have been based on both my own research and that of many others.  I am not a brilliant scientist, nor especially clever in a general sense. However, that no longer bothers me, because research institutes and universities are full of extremely clever scientists. My key skills involve being able to take complex ideas, concepts and scientific information and translate them into simple, clear guidance which people can follow in order to help them comply with environmental or agricultural legislation and to help them run their businesses and systems to best effect. I can do this both verbally, in training courses and in writing. The reality is that scientists who are excellent communicators are much rarer than scientists who are phenomenally clever and brilliant at the “research” part of their role and I have built the latter half of my career on that!

During the past 8 years, I have run well over 160 one-day training courses and seminars and have participated in workshops and farming and waste management conferences. I have also produced a large number of publications for farmers, growers and land managers.  A small selection of these are listed below:

Crooks, B., Litterick, A., Sinclair, A. and Williams, J, (2018) Agricultural use of biosolids, composts, digestates and other industrial organic fertilisers. SRUC Technical Note 699. SRUC, West Mains Road, Edinburgh.

Litterick, A. and Crooks, B (2018) Review of restoration achievements at two Scottish opencast mines. Final report for Scottish Environment Protection Agency project.

Bhogal, A; Nicholson, FA; Rollett, A; Taylor, M; Litterick, A; Whittingham, M and Williams JR (2018) Improvements in the Quality of Agricultural Soils Following Organic Material Additions Depend on Both the Quantity and Quality of the Materials Applied. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems 2. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fsufs.2018.00009

Litterick, A. and Crooks, B (2018) Review of restoration achievements at two Scottish opencast mines. Final report for Scottish Environment Protection Agency project.

Litterick, A., Vieweger, A.; Raskin, B.; Wood., M. & Pearce, B. (2018) Measuring and managing soil health in field horticultural crops – outcomes from the GREAT soils project. Proceedings of the Crop Protection in Northern Britain Conference, 2018, 21-26.

Litterick, A., Taylor, M. And Chambers, B. (2015) Guidance on suitable organic material applications for land restoration and improvement. Final report for Scottish Environment Protection Agency project.

Litterick, A., Wood, M., Holmes, S. (2015) Demystifying the use of PAS 100 compost in horticultural growing media. Final report for UK Waste and Resources Action Programme.

Litterick, A. (2015) Use of PAS 100 compost in raspberry production. Final report for Zero Waste Scotland.

Litterick, A., Sinclair, A. and Rahn, C. (2018) Fertiliser recommendations for vegetables, minority arable crops and bulbs. SRUC Technical Note 649. SRUC, West Mains Road, Edinburgh.

Did You Know?

I have always believed that in order to work hard, I must also play hard, and I certainly know how to play hard. I have three hobbies which take up all of my spare time.

I play in two bands and spend as much time as I can playing music with friends and making new musical friends.

I also enjoy growing food and have a large garden, which I work on with my husband. The garden has a vegetable growing area, a fruit cage, a small orchard, a wildflower meadow and a pond.

And finally, I am a committed and experienced mountaineer.  I am president of an Edinburgh Mountaineering Club known as the Ferranti Mountaineering Club. I have climbed all the Munros (mountains > 3000 ft and am almost finished my third round of these). I have also climbed all the Munro Tops, Corbetts (mountains of 2,500-3,000 ft), Grahams (mountains of 2,000-2,500 ft), Donalds (mountains in the lowlands of Scotland over 2,500 ft), and over 1100 of the relative hills of Britain.

How do I find time for this, despite working between 45 and 55 hours per week? I watch very little television, I have nothing to do with social media of any description, I don’t play computer games and I never sit around doing nothing.

AN INSPIRING WOMAN

I have a good friend called Maisie Steven who is 96. She lives in Aberfeldy, and was (and still is) a nutritionist. She has a passionate interest in the ways in which diet affects human health and believes that far too many people rely on modern medicine to sort out problems which they themselves have created through over-eating and poor nutrition. Maisie was a scientist at a time when few women went to university and she still has plenty to say on her subject. She has written several books about the Scottish diet and the importance of good nutrition and has produced an easy-to-read version of the “Statistical Account of Scotland” for schools. Her husband was also an author, and her son is a poet and author. She is passionate about education and about people’s health and lives in general. She is also a musician and story teller. I visit Maisie regularly, play the fiddle to her, we sing together and we also talk long and hard on a wide range of subjects including current affairs, music, relationships and health. Maisie is no longer in good physical health, but her mind is sharper than most people a quarter of her age….. She is a complete inspiration to me.

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