Remembering Bob Symes

In March Sidmouth Centre worked with the SVA to hold a second annual Bob Symes memorial lecture. Bob was the Centre Chairman from 2001 – 2011 and the lecture “The Wood for the Trees” was presented as a tribute by Richard Fortey his friend and colleague from the Natural History Museum (NHM). Richard recounted how his 2011 purchase of the prime beech and bluebell Grim Dyke Wood in the Chiltern Hills had taken him back to his small boy’s perspective of nature, collecting and making notes in his little leather-bound notebook.

He described to the packed audience in the Manor Pavilion how archaeological excavation has shown that in the iron age his hill top four acres would have been clear of trees and a cultivated site. However, by the Saxon period it would have been forested remaining so as part of the woodland recorded in the Doomsday Book linked to the Rotherfield Greys in 1200. Subsequently the estate passed through the Elizabethan period with the Knolles family and to the Stapletons in the 18c. His small wood along with other parcels of land being sold off from the main estate, now owned by the NT, in 1922.

Richard recounted the highlight of his year as being the carpet of Bluebells in the wood before the canopy of Beech trees opens. But, interestingly in addition his scientific approach, with leather bound notebook, has identified with help of NHM friends: an unusual combination of trees in the wood – Beech and Cherry growing together reaching over 90 feet, Yew , Holly and Wych Elm which has been tested as resistant  to Dutch Elm disease , 200 different species of beetle, 150 different moths, 300 different fungi, 9 different species of bat and a soil substrate not of Chiltern Chalk but Glacial Peebles having travelled from Wales some 10million years ago.

Richard’s talk was a well-received tribute to his colleague and friend delivered with the same humour, professional knowledge and communication skills for which Bob Symes is remembered.