Hugh Blackett: Forester dedicated to conservation in the Tropics

Hugh Blackett dedicated his professional life to the wise use and conservation of tropical rain forests. He was at the forefront in developing tools for tracking individual logs from forest to factory and onwards to point of sale, making it possible to prove the ownership and legal origin of wood products throughout the supply chain. Such certificates are just starting to be required by US and EU law, and it will soon be impossible to import and sell wood products legally in these markets without them. This is galvanising countries such as Indonesia, where much logging is illegal, and governments are at last putting serious pressure on the gangsters who exploit forests outside the law.

Blackett was very much a Scot, and began his career at the Bank of Scotland before leaving in 1976 to study forestry at Aberdeen. Not content with tending pines for the Forestry Commission, within a year or two of graduating he was with VSO in the Sri Lankan forestry department, and by 1984 he was in Uganda with a British aid project. Between then and 1997, Blackett planted, planned and analysed his way through forests in Vanuatu, Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya and the Solomon Islands, turning his hand to project design, economics, forest inventories and the restructuring of forest departments.

This phase of his career coincided with a peak in the mismanagement and destruction of tropical forests, as fortunes were made by selling off logs, plywood, pulp, paper and newly cleared plantation lands. Professional foresters are often overruled by the rich and powerful, and Hugh had seen hair-raising things by the time we met in Malaysia in 1997. Our job then was to computerise forestry and biodiversity logic within the digital systems of the Malaysian forestry department. But Hugh was ready to confront those who pandered to the forces of deforestation. No longer willing to see his beloved forests and the people who depend on them forced into extinction, he is remembered for pounding tables and insisting that foresters take responsibility for thinking like grown-ups in a world run by greedy children.

Surprisingly, perhaps, Blackett is fondly remembered by those he lectured in this way, including senior forestry officials and their German advisers. I think because he was so obviously truthful and correct, he opened something in people's minds where new thoughts could enter. And he would follow up with more relaxing conversations about his other great loves, such as Scottish football and a demonstrable fondness for the whiskies of his homeland. It was hard for even the toughest production foresters to be annoyed with Hugh for long, and the rest of us came to love him for his anarchic joys, generosity, and inquisitiveness.

Wide-ranging late-night talks brought new perspectives to all of us and, looking back, in 1997-1999, Hugh changed from a conventional forestry consultant into an imaginative explorer of new ideas. As a result, he first began to experiment with the trade in sustainably produced timber from North America, and then became involved in certifying well-managed forests in the tropics. In short, realising that the old ways were not working, he was looking for win-win outcomes from the collaboration of forest science and commerce.

By 2003, Hugh had discovered a real passion in leading the Tropical Forest Trust's work across South East Asia. Based in Malaysia, he supervised efforts to help forests and forest companies get certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This work grew in 2007 into the mission of his last three years: the timber tracking and verification systems that were fast becoming the life-blood of sustainable forest governance, trade, law enforcement and the forest carbon-conservation partnerships that are starting to dominate in what remains of the forested world. Hugh applied his knowledge of forest and data-management systems to good effect in Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Ghana and Guyana, working for Helveta and other firms.

The transparency and precision of the systems that Hugh created will make it possible to safeguard the homelands of indigenous peoples, biodiversity and carbon stored in forests and forest soils. Without them, we were helpless to implement the key deals on forest protection and carbon storage that we need to reduce tropical deforestation, which generates a quarter of all greenhouse gases. But tracking, monitoring and enforcement, and verifying carbon stored that would otherwise be released, all demand trained people, on the ground, across the tropics. Blackett was as much involved in building these capacities as he was in pioneering the technical systems themselves.

The awful untimeliness of his death is revealed by the fact that in May 2010, Norway signed a Letter of Intent with Indonesia, offering a billion dollars, cash on delivery, for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions from avoided deforestation. And in August 2010, as Hugh lay dying, the EU, UK and Netherlands were agreeing to support the avoided deforestation and low-carbon development plans of the vast Indonesian Province of Papua. But these and scores of other initiatives need the systems that Hugh Blackett was developing, and the people he was training. So he will be as deeply missed for his indispensability as for his good humour, compassion and commitment. Those who remain will just have to do our best in his absence.

Hugh Logan Blackett, forestry consultant: born Edinburgh 22 April 1955; married Luisella D'Alberto; died Oxford 12 August 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea