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Denys Barker Smith, 1929 - 2007

Denys Barker Smith was born 9 April 1929 in Wybunbury, Cheshire, and died 11 July 2007 in Knaresborough, Yorkshire. A graduate of Birmingham University, he joined the Geological Survey in 1953, based in the Newcastle office and working primarily on the Permian ‘Magnesian Limestone’ on the Sunderland and Durham geological map sheets. In 1958 he published Some Observations on the Magnesian Limestone reefs of north-eastern Durham in the Bulletin of the Geological Survey of Great Britain, the first of over 70 papers that established him as a leading authority on the Permian System.

During his early career, Denys gained much experience of elucidating the problems presented by the Quaternary, Permo-Triassic and Carboniferous rocks of NE England, assisted by the exploration for offshore coal reserves from the 1950s onwards and by the discovery of well-defined evaporite cycles in the North Sea basin. His work also brought him into contact with industry and regional and local authorities, particularly in association with planning and engineering projects, and included the preparation of geotechnical reports on the sites of Washington New Town and the Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station.

Denys’s expertise on the Permian strata of NE England led, in 1970, to a secondment to the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, to study the Permian carbonates of the Guadeloupe Mountains in New Mexico and West Texas. In 1974 he was awarded a DSc from the University of Birmingham in recognition of his international reputation on the Permian System, and in 1975 he was appointed District Geologist for South Wales and the West Midlands. Much of his published work during this period was concerned with the stratigraphy, correlation, nomenclature and palaeogeography of the Permian rocks in the UK and Europe, and with the Permian Capitan Escarpment in New Mexico and Texas.

In 1981, Denys moved back to a newly re-established Newcastle office as Head of Station. He remained there until his retirement in early 1984, after which he established his own consultancy, GeoPerm, and also became Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Durham. Although acknowledged nationally and internationally for his work and publications on the Permian of northern England, Denys’ interests extended to other areas, including geo-conservation. His passion for conserving the UK’s geological heritage led him to become a key contributor to the UK’s first regional geological conservation strategy, published by Durham County Council in 1993.

Denys was an active member of numerous societies and organisations. For the Geological Society of London, he served as Chair of the Permian Working Group (1965-1974), as a member of the Upper Palaeozoic Subcommittee (1966-1974), as Chair of the NE England Subcommittee of the Quaternary Working Group (1967-1973), and as a member of the Stratigraphy Committee (1975-1980). His contribution to British geology was recognised by awards of the Murchison Fund of the Geological Society of London, the Clough Memorial Medal (Edinburgh Geological Society), and the John Phillips and Sorby medals of the Yorkshire Geological Society - making him the only person to be awarded both medals by that society.

Steve McLean & Stewart Molyneux