Talks set to decide fate of Wellesbourne

A series of talks at the University of Warwick over the coming weeks will be pivotal in deciding the fate of the Wellesbourne research station.

Tim Jones, the professor tasked with producing a business plan for Warwick HRI, will meet representatives from the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) on Monday (17 May) to share proposals for a crop research centre.

This will be followed by a stakeholders meeting on 27 May, when bodies including Defra, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the NFU will have a chance to scrutinise the university and its plan.

However, it is likely that the HRI principal investigators who have been put at risk of redundancy will know for certain whether their jobs have been axed by that point.

AHDB chief scientist Ian Crute told HW: "If this venture is genuinely going to happen, it makes it more risky if people who are important to its success are not around."

The business plan is expected to include a financial commitment from Defra and the AHDB for an industry-led unit. But HDC chairman Neil Bragg said the expertise of specific scientists would be needed to guarantee success.

"Staff are key to projects and that is the missing link," he added. "The process is out of sync. If (Warwick) really wanted to (create the centre) it would stop the redundancies and find out whether it can get the stakeholders on board first."

Meanwhile, the mood at Wellesbourne is reported to be extremely low after around half the academics at the centre received notice that they were at risk of redundancy. Some have already decided to leave, including senior research scientist Steve Adams, who will become director of product development at Plant Impact from July.

But Warwick's head of communications Peter Dunn said he was getting "very good vibes" of a "plausible plan" that could receive support from industry and government.


The president of Wye College's alumni association, Professor David Leaver, has described as a "tragedy" the failure of Imperial College rector Sir Richard Sykes to grasp the opportunity presented by the merger with Wye to lead key food issues.

His comments came in a postscript to a detailed record of the events leading up to the merger and Wye's subsequent closure, published by the Agricola Club. Sykes was responsible for closing Wye, which provided applied and strategic research to the land-based industries for more than a century.

The publication records the contrasting view of Lord Oxburgh, rector of Imperial at the time of the merger in 2000, who made it clear that the opportunity to become involved in the science and technology of food production was a driving force for the deal.

Leaver said: "Lord Oxburgh's vision about the importance of agriculture, food, health and the environment has turned out to be absolutely correct. It is a tragedy that the incoming rector did not possess the vision of his predecessor."

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