Product has been added to the basket

Richard Barrie Rickards 1938-2009

Barrie Rickards was a world-renowned palaeontologist; an expert on the palaeobiology of graptolites and their biostratigraphic use. He was even better known as an angler and influential fishing writer.

Barrie was born in 1938 on the eastern outskirts of Leeds. He went to primary school there and then in Hook, east Yorkshire. A boyhood freedom to roam over the Yorkshire countryside nourished a talent for observing, documenting and interpreting the natural world. Indeed, he was more interested in this outdoor education than in formal study, both at primary school and then at Goole Grammar School. He was more distinguished as a cross country runner and footballer, although he did show enough aptitude for chemistry to gain entry to Hull University. Here he chose to do Geology, getting his BSc in 1960. An undergraduate mapping project across the Dent Fault and Howgill Fells stimulated his interest in Early Palaeozoic fossils. This led to a PhD at Hull in 1963, for a meticulous revision of Silurian graptolites and their biostratigraphy. As his academic reputation grew, Barrie held short appointments at University College London, the University of Cambridge, the Natural History Museum, and Trinity College Dublin. He particularly impressed Oliver Bulman, the graptolite expert and Woodwardian Professor in Cambridge, who lured him back there in 1969.

Barrie spent most of his career in Cambridge, as successively Lecturer, Reader and then Professor in Palaeontology and Biostratigraphy. His work was recognised by the Geological Society with the award of the Murchison Fund (1982) and the Lyell Medal (1997) and by the Yorkshire Geological Society with the John Phillips Medal (1988). Barrie was Curator of the Sedgwick Museum from 1969-2000, and a Fellow of Emmanuel College from 1978. He had two spells on the Council of the Geological Society, and served also the Yorkshire Geological Society, the Palaeontological Association, the Ludlow Research Group, and the British and Irish Graptolite Group.

Barrie’s internationally renowned geological research, published in over 275 papers and five books, focused on the palaeobiology of graptolites, collected by him in areas from Australia to Argentina and from Canada to Russia. He had a legendary ability to find distinctive fragments of these fossils in the field, even in unpromising rocks. He used their rapid evolution to accurately date and correlate Ordovician and Silurian strata. He used new technologies to shed light on the behaviour of graptolites. Working with doctoral students and young research fellows, Barrie used scanning electron microscopy to show that their skeletons were actively constructed by the colony of animals that inhabited them, meaning that they were more like floating beehives than typical shelly fossils. His collaborations on their hydrodynamics started with simple models in the Emmanuel College swimming pool before progressing to wind tunnels and computer modelling.

His study of the enigmatic fossil Promissum pulchrum with Dick Aldridge and Johannes Theron found that, rather than being the oldest land plant as was previously considered, this organism was an exceptionally preserved conodont, consequently revealing the complete anatomy of this primitive vertebrate. Barrie taught geology with the same quiet enthusiasm that he researched it, being particularly influential with the many supervision students who passed through his care in Emmanuel, Christ’s and Girton Colleges. He also set up the Cambridge geological mapping course in the Howgills Fells, and taught it for over 35 years, training over 1500 students.

Barrie’s activities as an angler even eclipsed those as a geologist. He wrote more than 800 fishing articles and about 30 books. Through his guides to fishing technique he taught a generation of anglers with the same skill that characterised his geological teaching. The two subjects also came together in his campaigning on environmental issues, particularly over drainage policy. He was an expert on fisheries management, and himself managed a succession of lakes and rivers. He was a scientific adviser to the Anglian region of the Environment Agency in the 1990s.

Barrie was by birth and character a Yorkshireman, though never a parody of one. He was generous to others but thrifty in spending on himself: using the same trusted rucksack and Barbour jacket for over 30 years. He liked proven technology, preferring his Morris Minor to other cars, and the pen to the computer keyboard. He could be confident and forthright, but was more naturally gentle and shy. His friends will remember him for his integrity, honesty, and an infectious sense of humour, there until the end. Barrie’s only son Jeremy died in 2000. He is survived by his partner Mandy Lyne, step-daughters Rebecca and Louisa, and granddaughters Fern and Alice.

Nigel Woodcock & Alex Page