Richard Southwood bigraphy, stories - Zoologist, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford

Richard Southwood : biography

20 June 1931 - 26 October 2005

Sir Thomas Richard Edmund Southwood DL, FRS (20 June 1931 – 26 October 2005) was Professor of zoology and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford.

Sir Richard became interested in natural history at an early age, and developed his skills on the family dairy farm in Kent; he had his first research articles about insects published by the age of 16. He was educated at Gravesend Grammar School and Imperial College London, then worked for his Ph.D. degree at Rothamsted Experimental Station. He returned to Imperial as a research assistant and lecturer, and in 1967 became head of the Department of Zoology and Applied Entomology, and director of Imperial College's Field Station at Silwood Park. He later became Dean of Science and chair of the Division of Life Sciences.

Sir Richard's research at Imperial concentrated on insect communities and population dynamics. His 1966 book Ecological Methods described techniques available for the study of populations and ecosystems, including population estimates with different sampling techniques.

In 1979, he took up the Linacre Chair of Zoology at the University of Oxford, and became a Fellow of Merton College. In 1989, he moved from being head of the department of zoology to take up the Vice-Chancellorship of the University, from which position he set up a working party that would recommend the reform of the University's governance. Having stepped down from that position in 1993, he continued to research, teach and write, and in 2003 published The Story of Life, a book based on the first-year undergraduate lectures he gave at Oxford.

Sir Richard Southwood served as Chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1981 to 1985, having been first appointed to the Commission in 1974. Under his chairmanship, the 1983 report Lead in the Environment aroused public concern about lead pollution. He was Chairman of the National Radiological Protection Board from 1985 until 1994, and also chaired the Working Party on Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) set up by the British government in 1988. In 1993-1994 he was the first head of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy at the Central European University in Budapest.

Southwood was also a contributing member of the Oxford Round Table, an interdisciplinary forum for the discussion of contemporary issues.


Sir Richard Southwood was married to Alison, Lady Southwood; they had two sons and four grandchildren.

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Living octopus

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