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
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Sport
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all