John Heap

Antarctic Treaty negotiator who enjoyed a second career as Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute


John Arnfield Heap, diplomat and polar researcher: born Manchester 5 February 1932; staff, Falkland Islands Dependency Survey 1955-62; Research Fellow, Department of Geology, Great Lakes Research Division, University of Michigan 1963-64; staff, Polar Regions Section, Foreign and Commonwealth Office 1964-92, Head of Section 1975-92; Administrator, British Antarctic Territory 1989-92; Director, Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge University 1992-97, Executive Director 1998; CMG 1991; married 1960 Peg Gillespie (née Spicer; one son, two daughters); died Harston, Cambridgeshire 8 March 2006.

John Heap was an internationally respected polar diplomat and researcher who was an important contributor to the regulations protecting the Antarctic environment in the Antarctic Treaty.

Born in Manchester and educated at Leighton Park School in Reading, Heap's interest in the polar regions was first stimulated by his mother reading Scott's journals to him and developed at Edinburgh University, where he read Geography, graduating in 1955. As a member of the university's Mountaineering Club he climbed regularly in the Scottish Highlands, and also led an undergraduate expedition to the then little-visited Lingen area of Arctic Norway. The expedition provided an early introduction to both the high latitudes and to expedition science.

In 1957 he undertook his first visit to the Antarctic, travelling south with Sir Vivian Fuchs's Trans-Antarctic Expedition as a sea-ice observer. A research career beckoned and Heap came to the Scott Polar Research Institute, a department and research centre in Cambridge University (of which he was later to become Director), to study the distribution of sea ice off the shore of Antarctica under the supervision of Terence Armstrong. The Armstrongs were to become firm friends and near-neighbours of John and his wife Peg, whom he married in 1960. They provided a strong sense of collegiality in the Institute, which John Heap was to perpetuate much later.

Heap earned the degree of PhD in 1962, and his research was published as an atlas of Antarctic sea ice the following year (Sea Ice in the Antarctic), forming the first comprehensive survey of sea-ice distribution and variability around the continent.

Post-doctoral work in Antarctica and on the winter ice of the Great Lakes followed but, after a two-year spell at the University of Michigan, Heap joined Brian Roberts in the Polar Regions Section of the Foreign Office in 1964. This was a major change in career, if not in region, away from research to diplomacy, but Heap's science background and direct experience of working in the Antarctic were to be major assets in negotiations concerning the Antarctic Treaty and its associated environmental protocols. His was a critical advantage when faced with career diplomats fielded by other nations who sometimes knew little of the real circumstances and limitations of operating in the polar region.

Heap's considerable contribution to the development of the Antarctic Treaty owed much to his mentor Roberts, who was in many ways the architect of one of the world's most successful international agreements. Taking over from Roberts in 1975 as Head of the Polar Regions Section was a daunting task, but Heap set about it with quiet efficiency and over the following 17 years enhanced the reputation of the UK in many ways.

He proved to have the qualities needed to be a successful diplomat - intellectual ability, a facility for making deals, a certain subtle skill, combined with charm in playing the field, linked to a determination to ensure that the UK was almost always setting the Antarctic agenda. Heap was especially pleased with the part he played in the negotiations for the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which came into force in 1982. This provided the first international ecosystem-based fisheries management regime.

Heap also had a major role in obtaining agreement between the Treaty Parties over the Convention for the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resources and, when that proved impossible to ratify, he turned quickly to securing the future of the high-latitude environment through the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty. He was politically shrewd, with a remarkable grasp of both legal procedure and Treaty affairs. His enlightened approach to the management of the Antarctic, in which science had an important part to play, was in contrast to many other countries who saw the Antarctic almost entirely in political terms. For these achievements, Heap was appointed CMG in 1991.

Throughout his time at the Foreign Office, and again following in the footsteps of Roberts, Heap made his intellectual home in the Scott Polar Research Institute, where he had been a research student. This allowed him access to the institute's unparalleled library and information resources and, importantly, to its staff with their knowledge and experience of the polar regions. Furthermore, with the establishment of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge in 1976, Heap had access to an increasing range of specialist knowledge of the Antarctic which he mined to support the British position in negotiations.

The other asset he possessed was his permanent position as prime UK negotiator, a continuity granted to few diplomats. A primary contribution to the Antarctic Treaty System was the development in 1977, at his instigation and mostly deriving from his pen, of the Handbook of the Antarctic Treaty System - a comprehensive guide to the burgeoning and ever more complex web of procedures, documentation and practices which had come into force over the years. He wrote extensively about the Antarctic Treaty in books, journals and conference contributions. His prose was original, lucid and informed. He was justifiably proud of the skills of concise and precise writing he had acquired at the Foreign Office.

After his retirement from the Foreign Office in 1992, Heap was appointed Director of the Scott Polar Research Institute. In a difficult initial period, he handled the strong personalities among the academic staff with skill and tact and secured the long-term future of the institute within Cambridge University. He also saw the need for enhanced library and research space in the growing institute, and spearheaded a successful appeal to fund a major extension.

No one was more delighted than Heap when, in late 1998, close to schedule, the extension, including the new Shackleton Memorial Library, was opened by Alexandra Shackleton, daughter of Lord (Edward) Shackleton and granddaughter of Sir Ernest Shackleton. Heap felt the completion of the library to be a lasting achievement, and remarked, with typical modesty, "What a friendly and useful place this is" - in fact, the building won architectural design awards.

When, for the second time, Heap retired, this time from directorship of the institute, in 1998, he continued to be actively involved in polar matters. As chairman of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, he fostered the need to conserve the heritage of Antarctica through the preservation of the historic huts and artefacts of early expeditions, such as those of Scott and Shackleton. He was also Chairman of the Trans-Antarctic Association and Treasurer of the International Glaciological Society, the learned society concerned with the study of ice and snow.

He was elected a Liberal Democrat member of South Cambridgeshire District Council in 1998 and right up to his death continued to bring skill, insight and commitment to local political life.

Even in his last weeks, John Heap remained active enough to visit the family retreat on the Isle of Mull. On his return home to Harston, he continued to receive friends for tea and cakes, eager as ever for news of the polar regions.

Julian Dowdeswell

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
News
Lois Pryce... Life Without a Postcode. Lois lives on a boat with her husband.. Registering to vote in the election has prooved to be very difficult without a fixed residential post code. (David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing