Martin Mortimer obituary

Other lives: Agricultural ecologist with expertise in weed management

My father, Martin Mortimer, who has died after a short illness aged 71, was an agricultural ecologist with expertise in weed management. His research focused on the mechanisms that maintain genetic diversity in perennial grass pastures, the evolution of herbicide resistance in cereal weeds and successful methods for the establishment of direct-seeded rice in Asia. He was determined to enhance sustainable livelihoods in agriculture together with alleviating poverty.

Born in Maidstone, Kent, Martin was the son of Dorothy (nee Coveney) and Jack Mortimer. The couple had waited until Jack returned from his wartime service in North Africa to his job in insurance before marrying in 1945. Martin was brought up by his mother on his grandparents’ farm, Spout House, in the Kent countryside near Leeds, after his father died of cancer while Dorothy was pregnant with him.

He went to Sutton Valence school in Maidstone, then studied agricultural botany at the University of Wales, Bangor, in 1969, and completed a PhD in plant ecology there in 1972. As a Lord Leverhulme postdoctoral research fellow (1972-75), investigating the genetics of the Phytophthora group of plant pathogens, his time was divided between Bangor and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1975 he was appointed a lecturer in botany at the University of Liverpool, where he worked for the remainder of his career.

Martin was seconded in 1996 as a weed ecologist to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Manila, the Philippines, where he researched the ecology and management of weeds in direct-seeded rice in south and south-east Asia. He established an international reputation and his work was of prime importance in overcoming crop production problems in countries such as India, Bangladesh and the Philippines.

He returned to Liverpool in 2002, becoming a professor in agricultural ecology in 2007. More recently, Martin played a major role in founding the N8 AgriFood programme and in setting up the University of Liverpool’s Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Food Systems. He also led Liverpool’s international collaboration with universities in the Philippines.

Martin published widely in his chosen field. With a colleague, Mike Begon, he wrote the influential undergraduate textbook Population Ecology (1981), which was a key text bringing together the population dynamics of both animals and plants, described in the Biologist as “without doubt … the best introduction” to the field.

Once he was semi-retired, the family moved to North Wales. Facing the Llantysilio mountains, near Llangollen, he was most often found on his ride-on mower, planting trees, landscaping, beekeeping and tending to the estate. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour eight weeks before his death.

Martin met Sue Cusden (nee Hindley) on a blind date at a New Year’s Eve gathering and they married in 1979. She survives him along with their children, Fergus, Andrea and me, and grandchildren, Jessica, Philippa and Leo.

Hugh Mortimer

The GuardianTramp

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