Obituary: George Gibson

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George Gibson, forester: born 1 May 1953; married 1983 Lucy Cartledge; died Ben Nevis 25 February 1994.

GEORGE GIBSON was a forester who made important contributions to the development of tropical forestry, to the understanding of the population structure of tropical pines and other species used in afforestation schemes to alleviate pressure on natural forest and to the conservation of endangered species.

Gibson graduated from Edinburgh University in 1976, and soon found himself attempting to conserve tropical forest species in Ecuador while the government moved large numbers of settlers into Oriente Province. There began Gibson's interest in the genetics and potential for improvement in three species.

Based in the Oxford Forestry Institute for a decade, he developed studies of the use of Central American species in Africa and elsewhere, under the aegis of the Overseas Development Administration. He held office in the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) helping to co-ordinate the study of provenance and other areas of tree breeding on a world scale before undertaking a three-year programme in Honduras to bring into cultivation species which have all but disappeared from their natural habitat. His experience, knowledge and devotion to improving conditions for the peoples of environmentally disadvantaged countries made him much sought after for projects all over the world but especially in Latin America. He was acutely aware of the need to improve non-timber or multi-purpose tree species to provide for the local needs of people dependent on trees for fodder, poles and fuel and the desirability of developing native species for these purposes.

Appointed in 1992 as a lecturer at the Institute of Ecology and Resource Management, Edinburgh University, with responsibility for tree-improvement studies, he continued to travel the world. Through the Edinburgh Centre for Tropical Forests he developed, for example, a programme for broadening the genetic base of pine species in China, which led to a reopening of forestry relations between Britain and Cuba, where seed is to be collected. Other projects in Nepal, India, Ecuador, Colombia and Mexico depended on his knowledge and enthusiasm.

His outgoing personality and infectious sense of humour made him many friends and allowed him to deal effectively with pompous officials at all levels.

Born in the Borders, Gibson early developed a passion for the Scottish hills and became an expert mountaineer. As a student he led an expedition to the Hindu Raj mountains in Pakistan, achieving the first ascent of a 6,400m peak in the Thui group. Ecuador allowed him to explore the Andes, and he climbed Altar (5,500m), an impressive peak near Chimbarazo. His heroes were WH Murray and JH Bell, whose classic works on the Scottish mountains were frequently quoted as he contemplated his next foray. A master of Burns, he could reel off long sections of his poetry. He was probably the first importer of a large haggis to Honduras.

Full of energy, George Gibson was never long away from his beloved hills. On 25 February he climbed the icefall on Ben Nevis and his death after falling on the descent of the mountain is a tragic loss to his family, friends and to world forestry.

(Photograph omitted)