Hugh Brammer obituary

Hugh Brammer
Working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Hugh Brammer was posted to Bangladesh to lead the country’s soil survey in 1962, and stayed, on and off, until the late 1980s
Working with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Hugh Brammer was posted to Bangladesh to lead the country’s soil survey in 1962, and stayed, on and off, until the late 1980s
Steve Jones

Last modified on Sun 14 Feb 2021 12.07 EST

Some people are lucky and remain passionately interested in their work throughout their lives. My friend, Hugh Brammer, who has died aged 95, a Covid-19 victim, was one. He was an internationally renowned geographer and soil scientist, who became the foremost authority on the agro-ecology of Bangladesh.

Hugh started his career in 1952 in the Colonial Service in Africa before joining the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). In 1962 he was posted to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) to lead the soil survey of the country with local colleagues. During the liberation war in 1971 he was evacuated, but returned to the newly independent Bangladesh as senior adviser to the minister of agriculture in 1974. He stayed until he retired from FAO in 1987.

Returning to the UK, with flats in Brighton and Cambridge, while regularly visiting his family in Yorkshire, Hugh devoted himself to research and writing on the agro-ecology, disaster risks and development challenges of Bangladesh. Over the next 30 years he wrote 11 books and numerous articles on the agriculture, floods, climate and ecology of Bangladesh. His seminal efforts laid the basis for planning the agricultural development of this small country of great rivers with a population more than 150 million.

Hugh had a deep love of Bangladesh in all its natural complexity and beauty and this became over more than 50 years virtually his second homeland. As a Bangladeshi friend put it: “Bangladesh has lost one of its most ardent supporters. Hugh had immense faith in the country and its people.”

He was a warm and generous friend, who was always willing to spend time guiding other researchers and was determined to pass his knowledge on to students and scientists everywhere.

His advice to government policymakers and those working in NGOs was always considered, evidence-based and truthful. He firmly believed in climate change, but was concerned at over-simplistic statements about global scale impacts on Bangladesh, and used rigorous analysis based on his deep understanding of that highly complex environment to challenge such views.

Hugh was born in Kippax, West Yorkshire, to Ernest, a mining engineer, and Lizzie (nee Varley). He attended Hemsworth grammar school, before wartime service in the RAF as a trainee meteorologist. In 1946 he went to Downing College, Cambridge to read geography.

As a bachelor, he lived modestly and gifted most of his estate to support research and teaching on geography through his old college, Downing; he personally funded research on arsenic poisoning from groundwater in Bangladesh and endowed a fellowship.

Hugh was honoured with gold medals by the president of Bangladesh and FAO, the Royal Geographical Society Busk medal for scientific discovery and research, an OBE in 1987 and an honorary fellowship of Downing College.

He is survived by two younger brothers, and seven nieces and nephews.