University Marine Biological Station Millport
History of UMBSM
The Station's origins can be traced back more than a century to the earliest days of organised marine biology in Scotland. In 1885, the ‘Ark’, an old lighter fitted out as a floating laboratory by Sir John Murray, was drawn up on the shore at Port Loy, Cumbrae. She attracted a stream of distinguished scientists drawn by the richness of the fauna and flora of the Firth of Clyde and tributary sea lochs. A remarkable local man, David Robertson persuaded members of the professional and business community in Glasgow to fund a permanent marine station at Millport and this was opened in 1897. The new marine station consisted of a laboratory, museum and public aquarium, all of which still exist, though in modified form.
The Scottish Marine Biological Association Phase
There was a close link between the The Scottish Marine Biological Association (SMBA) (now the Scottish Association for Marine Science) and the Millport Marine Station throughout much of the century. The SMBA started as the Marine Biological Association of the West of Scotland in 1901 and changed its name when it was incorporated as a non-profit making company in 1914. In the 1920s and 1930s the Station received governmental support in the form of an annual grant from the Development Fund, and this permitted the appointment of a permanent scientific staff. The Station remained the headquarters of the SMBA until 19671970 when this function was progressively transferred to Dunstaffnage, near Oban. During the many years of the SMBA's tenure, much fundamental marine science was done by scientists whose accomplishments have been communicated to generations of students.
Biological education at Millport
From its inception to the present day, the marine station has had an educational role in the field teaching of marine biology, the first extension (in 1904) yielding classroom and aquarium space required for this purpose. In the post-Second World War era of University expansion more and more student and undergraduate field courses were held in Millport. A tradition of the Station staff involvement in two courses held at Easter and in the early Autumn was established, while groups working at other times usually brought their own teachers. Practical teaching of marine biology inland generated a growing need for a variety of live and preserved material and the Specimen Supply service of the Station, which had been a feature of Millport from the earliest days, developed further to satisfy it.
In the late 1960s the impending move to Dunstaffnage of the SMBA posed problems of field teaching for the university sector, particularly in the case of the Universities of London (whose colleges had little access to the Sea) and Glasgow, because of strong local teaching and research links. With support from the University Grants Committee (precursor of the UFC and the regional HEFCs) the two universities formed a partnership in 1970 to administer UMBSM through a Committee of Management. This arrangement was in place until 2011, when the University of London assumed sole responsibility. The first director under the university regime was the late Norman Millott who had been Professor of Zoology, first in Jamaica and later at Bedford College, London. Professor Millott and his successor Professor John Allen (Director from 197791) nursed UMBSM over two decades from the precarious aftermath of the SMBA move to a situation in which the UFC Review Group on University Facilities in Marine Biology reported (in 1989) that:
The Marine Station at Millport meets the criteria for teaching better than any other UK marine facility
This period saw the purchase of two vessels for teaching and research (RV Aora and RV Aplysia), the building of a splendid student hostel (necessary as class size burgeoned), the construction of a modern lecture theatre (funded by the Wolfson Foundation) incorporating video and computer display facilities, and the development of a thriving diving facility (20003000 dives undertaken by staff, students and visitors each year). In the 1980s a novel area of course teaching and research (marine microbiology) was developed.
Student usage of the Station has climbed to over 1200 taught students per year, the increased numbers in the late 1980s and early 1990s faithfully reflecting the national trend towards ever larger class sizes. UMBSM has been at the forefront of field marine biological teaching for over 20 years, developing quantitative ecological methods and becoming increasingly important as a place where students encounter a great diversity of plants and animals, as well as learning the disciplines of taxonomy and species recognition. As expertise in classical disciplines of zoology and botany has withered in biological departments throughout Britain, the residential marine field course has become the only way of introducing students to biodiversity in an efficient, concentrated, direct manner. The library of UMBSM, rich in indentification texts and general zoological textbooks and journals reflects this approach.
Postgraduate teaching also flourished, not only in terms of Ph.D. students, but also because M.Sc. course students spend several weeks each year at the Station. European students use Millport, either as members of classes from their home institutions, or as individuals carrying out research projects. So far, some 25,000 students have been taught at UMBSM since the university takeover in 1970 a remarkable achievement, given the substantial reduction in staff by comparison with the SMBA days.
In the summer of 1995, UMBSM celebrated 25 years of service to the university sector of the United Kingdom. As with most British educational institutions, the normal and proper concerns at UMBSM are with the present and future, as we grapple with the demands of current students, plan future courses, compete for research grants and battle for contract income. However, a silver jubilee, with the associated visit of our Chancellor, Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal, provided a welcome opportunity to reminisce with past colleagues and former students, as well as to introduce the Station to those who are unfamiliar with its unique and complex nature. Less well know has been been the remarkable output of fundamental and applied marine research that has poured from an institution that has, until recently, not employed more than four permanent academics.
Marshall, S.M. (1987) An account of the Marine Station at Millport. (Edited by J.A. Allen) Occasional Publication No. 4, University Marine Biological Station Millport. 133pp.
Moore, P.G. (2002) Captian Alexander Turbyne and the early history of the Marine Station at Millport. The Linnean, 18: 25–31
Moore, P.G. (2005) Victorian natural scientists overlooking the Firth of Clyde: a rare early group photograph decoded. Archives of Natural History, 32: 10–25
Moore, P.G. (2006) Stephan Ion Pace (1872–1941): a ‘little local difficulty’ in the history of the Marine Station at Millport. The Linnean, 22: 17–36
Moore, P.G. (2008) The Marine Station at Millport: the "troubled years" between 1897–1907 and their continuing resonance. The Linnean, 24: 21–36
Moore, P.G. (2009) The University Marine Biological Station Millport: in the beginning was the vision (1970). Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 63: 191–202. doi: 10.1098/rsnr.2008.0030
Moore, P.G. & Gibson, J.A. (2007) The Marine Station at Millport: laying the permanent foundations (1896). The Linnean, 23: 31–49
Moore, P.G. & Moore, J.S. (2009) The Mermaid, the headmaster and marine biology: an interuppted century of educational outreach on a small Scottish island. History of Education Researcher, 83: 21–30