Chris Ferreira obituary

Other lives: Pioneering scientist who contributed new knowledge about the links between botany and geology

My godfather, Dr Chris Ferreira, who has died aged 87, was a geobotanist, a pioneer in the study of relationships between vegetation and underlying rock types. Strikingly athletic as he strode across the north-west Scottish Highlands, Chris contributed original field-based knowledge to the understanding of this rugged and varied terrain.

Chris was born in the Lake District. His parents, Edwin Ferreira, an engineer, and Jessica (nee Robinson), owned and farmed St Catherine’s estate, north of Windermere. In 1987, after the death of his mother, Chris gifted the estate to the National Trust.

He boarded at Charterhouse school in Surrey, then studied botany at Exeter University and went on to develop expertise in the distribution of birch woodland and associated plant communities. A year after taking his PhD at the University of Aberdeen, he produced in 1958 one of the first papers in Scotland linking upland plants to geology. A classic study of geobotany, it described the key importance of the release of calcium from rocks to determine the richness of plant life.

His first professional post came in 1960, with the Nature Conservancy, as an upland botanist.

Chris was excited to get a work placement in Africa in 1967 supporting developments in agriculture with the not-for-profit organisation Voluntary Service Overseas. Thus began a lifelong love of Africa and its people. Chris returned to Scotland after his placement was cut short by medical problems – but in his later years he formed a friendship with Nelson Mandela and his family, for whom he helped fund various schools and education projects.

Back in Scotland, Chris worked tirelessly on vegetation projects that served as a basis for the designation of national and international conservation sites. In 1970 he produced the first detailed vegetation map of the Isle of Rum nature reserve, which is still used today. Diplomatic and experienced in working with landowners, Chris managed to secure access to remote wild landscapes not open to conventional conservation scientists, and continued surveying work until 1995.

Living by the sea, at various times in Falmouth, Caithness and Kyle of Lochalsh, Chris also had a passionate interest in shipping, and was delighted to describe the history of any craft spied.

His ashes are to be scattered on Blà Bheinn, Skye, a mountain that Chris loved and chose as his final resting place.

Alastair Burn-Murdoch

The GuardianTramp

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