Dr Juliet Franklin

1929 - 2013

Obituary - Dr Juliet Camilla Frankland

Dr Juliet C. Frankland BMS President 1995.jpgMy (Clare Robinson) first memory of Juliet is from 1986. She was crossing the Merlewood lawn deep in conversation with Dr Bob Bunce about the identity and Latin binomial of a cherry tree situated between the lawn and the car park. Juliet was an excellent plant ecologist as well as a highly accomplished fungal ecologist, particularly known for fungal science in soil organic matter (i.e. fungal decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems).

Juliet Frankland (née Brown) was brought up in Effingham, Surrey, and studied for her degree and PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London. Subsequently, she took up a scientific post at Merlewood Research Station, Grangeover-Sands, Cumbria. I identified with her because she moved to the North of England from the Home Counties. She told me that the yearly rainfall total where she lived in Cumbria was double that of the home town of her birth in Surrey.

Juliet’s relationship with the British Mycological Society (BMS) was strong. She was President of the BMS in 1995, voted an Honorary Member in 2010, and she edited at least 4 volumes for the Society. She published 70+ papers and supervised tens of PhD students.

The hallmarks of Juliet’s work, in my opinion, are: excellence, persistence, the use of a large number of replicates, and attempting to understand fungal assemblages in natural substrata. She synthesised her work from first principles, using primary sources of literature, reading other people’s work on carefully trimmed paper photocopies. She insisted that one really lived the work: postgraduate students should think about their research all the time, including when they were washing up after their evening meal. Juliet set a good example in her own research, for example, spending evenings in the Merlewood attic, stripping sufficiently large amounts of basidiomycete mycelium, with forceps, from bracken petioles for chemical analysis (for the Frankland 1982 paper below).

Despite being one of the most famous fungal ecologists in the world, Juliet appeared shy and humble. She had a naughty sense of humour, an enormous spirit of fun and was generous and extremely loyal. She was highly regarded by the people who worked with her, and had a wide range of national and international colleagues. Juliet had a great commitment to public duty and standards, always turning out for forays and meetings. Juliet survived her late sister, Gill Brown, by fourteen years and her late husband, Raven Frankland, by sixteen years.

I have several special personal memories of Juliet. These are: (1) scraping up the thin layer of F1 leaf litter in Grizedale forest together, followed by homemade fruit cake and tea in the field; (2) sitting with Juliet and Raven in deckchairs at their Cumbrian house eating homemade scones and damson jam; and (3) fieldwork together at an upland grassland in the Scottish Borders on a freezing but sunny February day work collaboratively with Juliet from the late 1960s to 1981 when I left the UK. We met as joint participants in the ecosystem study at Meathop Wood which was one of the British contributions to the International Biological Programme. It was a privilege to work with her because she was undoubtedly the outstanding fungal ecologist of her time. Her reputation was already established from her classical studies of the succession of fungi on decaying bracken litter. Juliet was however one of the first to acknowledge that describing a sequence of fungi identified on the basis of their morphology (often after isolation and culture) could tell us little about what their actual role was in the processes of decomposition. Her move to focussing her attention on a single leaf litter decomposer, the basidiomycete Mycena galopus, was an inspiration: it gave not only a highly detailed insight into the functional role of a dominant decomposer but also put the successional process into a different perspective. The key to the success of this autecological approach was technical as well as conceptual through the application of a whole battery of methods to the same problem.

Contact and discussion with Juliet was stimulating and educational but also invariably good fun. Although she was the most unassuming of people (I am sure she never quite realised how highly she was regarded by her fellow scientists) she was never short of penetrating comment. She was a gracious person and one with a genuine interest in other people’s well being. One of my abiding personal memories is of her inviting my visiting Rhodesian father-in-law to her home where he spent several happy hours talking farming with her and Raven.

Clare H. Robinson and Michael J. Swift